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The unwritten rules of hacking another team's computer system

The Cardinals hacking scandal isn't just about broken federal laws and espionage. It's about the most important unwritten rule of all.

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Get the jokes out of the way so we can talk about this. The Cardinals Way. Best fans in baseball. The Cardinals Way. Best fans in baseball. The Cardinals Way. Best fans in baseball. The Cardinals Way. Best fans in baseball. The fan's way. The best Cardinals in baseball. The best way. The fan's baseball in Cardinals. The Baseball Way. Best Cardinals in fans. Just repeat them over and over until the words have no meaning and the jokes are out of your system.

This story is too amazing to waste on Cardinals Way jokes.

We're here to talk about a literal FBI investigation about a team literally hacking into the computers of another team. It's a modern update to the Giants stealing signs at the Polo Grounds, except this one violated federal laws and the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act.

Sorry, I can't stop italicizing things. Everything just seems so hilarious and important and stunning. We're here to talk about the unwritten rules of this whole mess. First we need to acknowledge that there are sure a lot of written rules that apply. Someone or someones are losing their jobs in the best-case scenario, and they're facing a lot more than that. The written rules are pretty explicit: don't use your computer to "hack" into another computer.

The unwritten rules come into play, though, because this could be a situation where one team might have gained an advantage over another because of something that isn't explicitly in the rule book.

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This thing wasn't made to discuss hackers, man. All that's in here are things about bases and obstruction and mitts and stuff.

The first step is to see what sort of advantage the Cardinals could gain from dipping into the Astros' computer system. Our first clue is that the two teams play about four games every year now. So even if the Cardinals were inclined to get a vast haxor database of all 29 teams, they sure would be expending a lot of energy for a limited return, and that's assuming the Astros would have stored game-sensitive material on a computer.

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Yeah, no. So the in-game advantage is unlikely. In a bigger picture sense, though, what about the possibility of scouting reports? If the database is thorough enough, the Cardinals might feel like they've doubled their scouting resources, especially as it pertains to draft picks, international free agents, and interleague rivals. If you trust the other team's competence, the information is extremely valuable. Not valuable enough to violate federal laws and go to prison. But valuable. A coordinated effort like that would be breaking the worst unwritten rules imaginable. It would be the worst ethical lapse by a single organization since the Black Sox.

That's assuming this is a big-c Conspiracy, though. We'll check back in with the original story and see if there are any clues.

Law enforcement officials believe the hacking was executed by vengeful front-office employees for the Cardinals hoping to wreak havoc on the work of Jeff Luhnow, the Astros’ general manager who had been a successful and polarizing executive with the Cardinals until 2011.

Vengeful. That's the key word, here. And what we know about the hack backs that up, considering what was leaked to Deadspin was a mish-mash of vaguely interesting rumors and trade strategies. It looked less like the fallout from a strategic information grab and more like someone trying to point out that Jeff Luhnow's password is his dog's name with a "1" after it. It was probably a pie in the face, not a way to win more ballgames.

If that's the case, well, this is most definitely a case for the unwritten rules. Because that scenario means that a member(s) of the Cardinals organization violated the most important unwritten rule in the world. This is the king and queen of unwritten rules, the unwritten spring at the top of the mountain stream, with all of the other unwritten rules trickling down from its source. That unwritten rule is this:

Don't be a dumbass.

That's it, that's the one. Except you won't find it written down anywhere.

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I've checked. This one rule, though, is the origin of the unwritten rule. You've heard about the Golden Rule, right?

One should treat others as one would like others to treat oneself.

It's been around in one form or another since Hammurabi, and it is one of our most important ethical codes. It has definitely been written down. However, it is not all-purpose. If the question before you is, "Should I grab this bull mastiff's ears and make incredibly high-pitched shrieking sounds while putting my face an inch away from its powerful jaws?", there isn't a lot of help to be found with a do-unto-others approach to morality. Reminding yourself not to be a dumbass, however, would save your life.

Don't be a dumbass is the Golden Unwritten Rule, then. And the person who thought that they could remotely log into another computer without leaving a trail is someone who does not understand how computers work. He or she probably still has an AOL address, and they sure as heck aren't using the Internet for more than surface-level stuff most of the time. Not if they thought they could log in, steal information, make a huge story out of it by leaking the information, and escape into the wisps of the Internet. They caught Kevin Spacey because of the books he checked out of the library, but you don't think they can trace a computer-to-computer interaction? Think, dammit, think.

That was the strategy of a dumbass, and it broke the Golden Unwritten Rule. The reward was to embarrass someone who was apparently a putz to you. The risk was to violate federal laws and go to prison. Someone who goes through life thinking, "don't be a dumbass, don't be a dumbass" isn't going to take that risk for that reward.

The risk is even greater than the above, though. It doesn't end with the penalty phase. It ends with the person you hate that much, the person who offended you so deeply, knowing you've ruined your career just to embarrass him. If he thought he was important before, now he knows that someone was willing to risk his or her career just to upset him. That's power. The person who wanted to embarrass a mortal enemy just made that enemy stronger.

Why didn't you see that coming, dumbass?

Don't be a dumbass.

That all assumes that this is a case of a Cardinals employee(s) realizing that Jeff Luhnow uses the same password for everything -- that Golden Unwritten rule applies to everyone, Jeff -- and wreaking havoc for the sake of wreaking havoc. If it was a coordinated effort to double the resources of the scouting department without incurring additional costs, well, there will be repercussions. There will be no bowl games for the Cardinals for years.

I'll stick with the idea that it was a person or small group that's responsible for this, and that they're quite aware of how horrible of a mistake they've made. If you get the chance to take revenge against people who have irritated you, think of the worst-case scenario if you're found out. If that worst-case scenario ends with you losing your highly coveted job in an industry that's nearly impossible to break into, maybe you shouldn't do that thing?

Maybe you shouldn't be a dumbass. In a world filled with unwritten rules -- inside and outside of baseball -- that's the most important one. That's really all you need to know.

SB Nation video archives: Baseball's unwritten rules (2013)