Home Sports Shohei Ohtani scandal looms over baseball ahead of opening day

Shohei Ohtani scandal looms over baseball ahead of opening day

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Shohei Ohtani Dodgers MLB

Shohei Ohtani #17 of the Los Angeles Dodgers looks on in the dugout during an exhibition game against the Los Angeles Angels at Angel Stadium of Anaheim on March 26, 2024 in Anaheim, California. Katharine Lotze/Getty Images/AFP

Shohei Ohtani and the Los Angeles Dodgers take center stage on Thursday as Major League Baseball’s new season gets underway on US soil against the backdrop of a gambling scandal that has engulfed its brightest star.

When the Dodgers won the race to sign Japanese superstar Ohtani last December on a lavish $700 million deal — the richest contract in the history of North American sport — the move was widely hailed as a blockbuster coup.

A two-time American League Most Valuable Player, Ohtani’s once-in-a-generation combination of elite pitching and hitting has seen him compared to the legendary Babe Ruth since his arrival in the major leagues in 2018.

READ: Who is Ippei Mizuhara, Shohei Ohtani’s interpreter?

The skyrocketing euphoria amongst Dodgers fans was given another jolt when the team acquired pitchers Tyler Glasnow and Ohtani’s highly rated Japan teammate Yoshinobu Yamamoto, further proof that the franchise is determined to make a serious run at the World Series.

But fast-forward three months and some of the breathless giddiness that greeted the Dodgers’ December shopping spree has dissipated as they prepare to host the St. Louis Cardinals in Thursday’s home opener.

The Dodgers launched their regular season with two games in Seoul against San Diego, splitting the series 1-1 last week.

The results however were a footnote to the scandal that erupted around Ohtani after his longtime friend and interpreter Ippei Mizuhara was accused of swindling him out of millions of dollars to pay off gambling debts.

Ohtani’s camp issued a statement saying the superstar had been the victim of a “massive theft” by Mizuhara, who was promptly fired by the Dodgers last week.

Unanswered questions

Yet details of the scandal remained murky, clouded by contradictory statements given by Mizuhara, who initially told ESPN that Ohtani himself had signed off on payments to an illegal bookmaker totalling $4.5 million.

Twenty-four hours later, Mizuhara changed his story, insisting that Ohtani had no knowledge of his gambling debts and did not transfer the money from his account.

Major League Baseball announced a formal investigation on Friday as pundits across US media wondered out loud whether Mizuhara had in fact been placing bets on Ohtani’s behalf — something that could lead to a career-ending ban if the bets involved Ohtani’s own team.

In his first public comments on the controversy on Monday, Ohtani denied ever betting on sport, accusing Mizuhara of transferring money without his knowledge and describing himself as “beyond shocked” at the betrayal of trust.

“I never bet on baseball or any other sports and I never have asked somebody to do that on my behalf and I have never went through a bookmaker to bet on sports,” Ohtani said.

“All of this has been a complete lie…Until a couple of days ago I didn’t know this was happening… Ippei has stolen money from my account and told lies.”

Ohtani’s 12-minute address did little to dispel the lingering questions surrounding the controversy, which were left hanging by the Dodgers’ refusal to allow reporters to ask questions of the superstar.

How was Mizuhara able to access Ohtani’s bank account to transfer vast sums?

How did no one in Ohtani’s entourage notice $4.5 million go missing?

Why would an illegal bookmaker extend millions of dollars of credit to an interpreter earning a salary reported at around $300,000-$500,000?

Circling the wagons

The Dodgers meanwhile have circled the wagons around their beleaguered superstar.

“We’re all behind the guy,” Dodgers third baseman Max Muncy said of Ohtani after his address to reporters on Monday.

“For me, where I come from, you’re innocent until proven guilty. The guy has told us face-to-face what he believes is the truth, and that’s what I’m going off of. I believe him 100%. I have his back on that.”

Dodgers manager Dave Roberts praised Ohtani’s version of events as “very honest.”

“I know that for me and the organization, we support him,” Roberts said on Monday.

“I got a lot of questions answered, as far as what he knew and didn’t know. I’m looking forward to just moving forward and obviously letting the authorities take care of this and just focus on baseball.”

That kind of optimism may prove to be fanciful.

ESPN analyst Jeff Passan warned that the fallout from the revelations could haunt the Dodgers throughout the season as the MLB probes the case while US federal investigators carry out a broader inquiry into illegal betting.

“This is a sprawling investigation that could take a long time to be resolved,” Passan said.



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“It’s the sort of thing that’s going to hang over the Dodgers all season. We’ll just have to see how they respond.”





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