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Everything you need to know: Ohtani's scandal


An explosive story involving star Shohei Ohtani, his former interpreter Ippei Mizuhara, and approximately $4.5 million that initially came from Ohtani's account to pay off a gambling debt to a southern California bookmaker has sent the baseball world into a frenzy. Another part of the saga unraveled Monday as the Los Angeles Dodgers slugger made his first public comments about the scandal, during which he pinned the entire fiasco on his longtime friend Mizuhara while effusively stating his own innocence.

Here's everything you need to know as the story continues to unfold.

How did this start?

The Dodgers' sudden and shocking firing of Mizuhara last Wednesday is the moment most would associate with the beginning. The dismissal occurred shortly after Ohtani's lawyers, Berk Brettler LLP, claimed the 29-year-old had "been the victim of massive theft." His lawyers didn't mention who they believed was the perpetrator, refused to take questions, and said authorities were involved. However, we now know the earlier parts of the story.

According to ESPN, MLB commissioner Rob Manfred knew of an investigation involving people close to Ohtani as late as Sunday, March 17, and the league contacted federal authorities in search of answers. This developed as the Dodgers and San Diego Padres prepared to play the first regular-season games of the 2024 season in Seoul, South Korea, that Wednesday and Thursday - roughly one week before the rest of MLB embarks on Opening Day. Ohtani, Mizuhara, and Manfred were all in Seoul at the time.

What happened last week?

Over the next couple of days, the Dodgers hired a communications expert specializing in crisis management, who said Ohtani paid off approximately $4.5 million in gambling debt on Mizuhara's behalf in $500,000 increments. The spokesperson spoke with Ohtani through Mizuhara.

Mizuhara then sat down for a 90-minute interview with ESPN, during which he explained that he initially began gambling with Mathew Bowyer's southern California book shortly after meeting him in 2021. Bowyer himself is now also the subject of a federal investigation. Mizuhara also claims that he approached Ohtani to help pay off his debts when they reached $4 million by early 2023. He also states that Ohtani has never gambled and that Ohtani believes gambling is "terrible."

Following the Dodgers' 5-2 season-opening win against the Padres on Wednesday, president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman told the entire roster that a negative news story was coming out and that Ohtani helped Mizuhara pay off gambling debts. Later that day, Ohtani noticed the money missing from his account.

Mizuhara was fired after Thursday's game. Following his termination, he admitted that he lied during the 90-minute interview with ESPN, specifically walking back that Ohtani knew about his gambling, and stating that he is "ready to face all the consequences."

Who is Ippei Mizuhara?

Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times / Getty

Mizuhara met Ohtani in 2013 while they worked for the Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters.

At the time, Mizuhara served as the interpreter for English-speaking players, including, at one point, Jeremy Hermida, Anthony Bass, and Chris Martin, among others.

Mizuhara and Ohtani developed a decade-long friendship, with the former getting hired as the latter's personal interpreter when the Los Angeles Angels signed Ohtani in 2017. Mizuhara even served as Ohtani's catcher during the 2021 Home Run Derby.

In the interview with ESPN, Mizuhara said the two were like "brothers" and that his wife knew less about his gambling debt than Ohtani. However, Ohtani later disputed knowing about the interpreter's gambling, and Mizuhara also admitted he had lied.

Where are we now?

On Monday, Ohtani made his first public comments since Mizuhara's termination. The Dodgers' new interpreter, Will Ireton, translated as the star read a prepared statement in Japanese.

In his statement, Ohtani said he didn't know about Mizuhara's gambling addiction or debt and found out about it during last Wednesday's team meeting. He added that he never agreed to pay off the losses, saying Mizuhara "was sending money, using my account, to the bookmaker."

This part arguably creates the most conjecture, with some suspicious that Ohtani wouldn't notice $4.5 million missing from his account. The two-time MVP's story also hinges on the idea that he learned about Mizuhara's claim that he paid off his interpreter's debts at the same time as everyone else on the Dodgers: in that team meeting last Wednesday.

Here's a potential way of making sense of both oddities.

First, Ohtani has made roughly $40 million in MLB career earnings to date and is likely in a financial situation that wouldn't warrant checking his account frequently. That estimate doesn't include endorsements or money made during his time in NPB. At first glance, his account being short $4.5 million might not have been noticeable.

Second, Friedman would've gotten the information that Ohtani was helping Mizuhara pay off his debts from Mizuhara. That would also mean Friedman was duped, and it's just an odd circumstance that Mizuhara didn't get a chance to tell Ohtani about the deception before Friedman told the team.

Why didn't Ohtani take questions?

In his first public statement since the news broke, many would expect Ohtani and the Dodgers' public relations staff to field some questions from media looking for clarity.

However, as previously stated, the matter is the subject of a federal investigation by the Internal Revenue Agency. The IRS Criminal Investigation Los Angeles Field Office is investigating Mizuhara as well as Bowyer, according to CNN. Bowyer's attorney Diane Bass noted that her client hasn't had contact with Ohtani. Even so, there are still wire transfers bearing Ohtani's name used to pay off gambling debts that are obviously the subject of a probe.

MLB is also investigating. While the IRS investigation could warrant a much more severe punishment than the league office can hand out, it's still ill-advised of Ohtani to take questions, most of which would inevitably be answered with "no comment."

Perhaps more questions will be answered eventually - by Ohtani, the league office, or federal investigators. No matter who it is, everyone will have to wait until investigators have gathered more evidence.

Why should I care?

Obviously, MLB's brightest star - who signed a record-breaking $700-million contract this past winter with the Dodgers - is embroiled in the biggest gambling scandal involving a star athlete since Michael Jordan in 1993. But this story could also carry immense legal implications.

Chiefly, there's the matter of sports betting. Bowyer's lawyers stated that Mizuhara would bet on "primarily soccer, occasionally football and basketball, but ... never baseball." There are a couple of possibilities to parse with this knowledge.

First, let's assume the extremely implausible worst: that Bowyer's lawyers, Mizuhara, and Ohtani are all lying and that Ohtani has secretly been placing bets on baseball through an intermediary. That would inevitably get Ohtani a lifetime ban from the league office, not unlike Pete Rose. However, it should be noted that Rose was a manager while committing his infractions. Ohtani would have his playing career interrupted in its prime.

Given what we know, that doesn't seem possible. So what if Bowyer's lawyers are lying simply about Mizuhara himself betting on baseball? Ohtani could be seen as giving Mizuhara information that helped him gamble - even unknowingly - as a result. And that would be worse if proof emerged that Ohtani did, in fact, know of Mizuhara's gambling. Remember: Mizuhara met Bowyer during a poker game also attended by David Fletcher, a friend of Ohtani's during their tenure with the Angels. It seems unlikely that Fletcher would be the only Angels player who would've been gambling with Bowyer and also not noticed Mizuhara's involvement.

Lastly, we can assume all the parties are telling the truth. This is still incredibly damning to the industry as a whole - it's proof that gambling addiction and gambling on sports by an accredited MLB team employee can go completely unnoticed.

What's next?

Following Monday's press conference, the story seems surprisingly clear for now: Mizuhara stole money from a trusting friend to pay off his own gambling debts and involved multiple people in his deception until it was too late. All of the stories seem to match at this point and now Mizuhara will undoubtedly face charges shortly.

As for Ohtani, that's less clear. If everyone is telling the truth, he's also likely making sense of it all as he goes. Up until last Wednesday, Mizuhara was a very close friend of his - and now he's not even a colleague. Everyone will have to await the investigation's results. Ohtani's next game is Thursday against the St. Louis Cardinals - his first with his new team at Dodger Stadium.

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