Interpreting What Shohei Ohtani Said Regarding Gambling Probe

Dodgers' superstar gives candid account of interpreter's actions.

For 12 minutes Monday, Los Angeles Dodgers superstar Shohei Ohtani told his side of the story regarding a sordid few days in South Korea that led to his interpreter, Ippei Mizuhara, being accused of “massive theft” from the two-time unanimous American League MVP.

The Japanese slugger and pitcher referenced notes and spoke in his native language in the media interview room at Dodger Stadium, alongside Will Ireton, who joined the Dodgers in 2016 and has served as an interpreter for pitcher Kenta Maeda and translated Ohtani’s comments for the English-speaking media. Ohtani did not take questions after issuing his statement.

Monday was the first time Ohtani spoke with the media since the team’s season-opening 5-2 victory over the San Diego Padres on Wednesday in Seoul, other than saying Sunday at Dodger Stadium, “Tomorrow,” when asked to speak about the tumultuous past few days. It was between the two games in Seoul that the Los Angeles Times was the first to report that Ohtani’s name had come up during an investigation into an illegal bookmaker, Mathew Bowyer. But it was Mizuhara who was placing bets with Bowyer and reportedly accrued a debt of at least $4.5 million. Mizuhara, who became Ohtani’s interpreter when the two-way sensation signed with the Los Angeles Angels before the 2018 season, then allegedly siphoned money from Ohtani to settle his losses. Mizuhara was fired by the Dodgers on Wednesday.

This story is complicated for many reasons: the language barrier, the friendship between Ohtani and Mizuhara, the changing stories Mizuhara told ESPN as it was also pursuing Ohtani’s involvement in the gambling allegations and the Dodgers being in South Korea at the time the stories broke.

Major League Baseball said Friday that it was investigating the matter. The Internal Revenue Service also reportedly is conducting its own inquiry. Bowyer’s Southern California home was raided by federal agents last year as part of the probe. Bowyer has not yet been charged, his lawyer told the Times. The lawyer also said Ohtani had no contact with Bowyer. It is not publicly known whether other local or federal agencies are investigating.

Ohtani’s statement Monday provided some clarity from the player’s standpoint and confirmed aspects of the second story Mizuhara told ESPN.

In addition to involving the player who has signed the richest contract in sports history (10 years for $700 million) it also involves the biggest sin in baseball — gambling.

Ohtani denied betting on baseball or any other sports. During his 12-minute media session, Ohtani displayed an even temperament, but you could tell he was extremely distressed by the entire situation. With the language barrier, many thought there would be a rather vanilla statement read. Instead, Ohtani seemingly used the notes in front of him as a guide and offered more insight than expected.

While not every word needs to be parsed, certain quotes from Ohtani stood out and deserve further context or more explanation.


“Ippei has been stealing money from my account and has told lies.”


Exactly how Mizuhara had access to Ohtani’s finances is not clear, but also potentially pretty simple. As a trusted confidant, Ohtani likely had given Mizuhara his personal phone and/or computer, which the interpreter then could have used to transfer money to the bookie (and deleted any confirmation emails or alerts).

With ESPN reporting two $1 million transfers, in September and October, it is difficult to understand how this was not noticed by Ohtani or someone from his camp. Does Ohtani not have an accountant or financial advisor? Maybe not. Early in his career, Ohtani’s mother reportedly managed his money.


“Ippei never revealed to me that there was this media inquiry, and to the representatives in my camp he told, Ippei told, to the media and to my representatives that I, on behalf of a friend, paid off debt.”


This is the part of the story that caused a lot of turmoil. As at least ESPN (and possibly the Times) made inquiries to representatives of Ohtani about his role in these gambling allegations, those representatives went to Mizuhara, who was then expected to go to Ohtani and ask for further insight. But according to Ohtani, Mizuhara never approached the player.

Instead, Mizuhara fabricated a story to tell Ohtani’s representatives. Mizuhara then had a 90-minute phone interview with ESPN, with a newly hired crisis-communications spokesman also on the call, in which he expounded upon his made-up version that Ohtani had agreed to pay off his gambling debt and several facts known by ESPN following months of reporting being confirmed. A day after his ESPN interview and as the story was on the verge of being published, the crisis spokesman told ESPN not to publish the story because Mizuhara had lied.


“Up until that team meeting, I did not know that Ippei had a gambling addiction and was in debt.”


After the first game in Seoul, Ohtani walked into the Dodgers’ clubhouse to find Mizuhara addressing the team in a closed-door meeting, telling those assembled — including owner Mark Walter and president of baseball operations Andrew Friedmanthat he had a gambling problem. Ohtani said Monday that was the first time he was aware of Mizuhara’s predicament. While not fluent in English, Ohtani said he understood enough of what Mizuhara was telling his teammates to know there was a problem.

Mizuhara still carried out his interpreter duties for Ohtani once the clubhouse was open to the media following the global star’s Dodgers debut. That Mizuhara hid his situation from someone he spent quite a bit of time with could have been the interpreter’s way of protecting Ohtani from a situation he knew was treacherous. Mizuhara told ESPN that he had not even informed his wife of his massive debt.


“Prior to the meeting, I was told by Ippei, ‘Hey, let’s talk one-to-one in the hotel after the meeting.’ So, I waited until then.”


It was only then that Mizuhara came clean to Ohtani, telling his friend that he had wired at least $4.5 million from his bank account to pay off the bookie. Ohtani then contacted his lawyers and the Dodgers to explain his side. With ESPN pressing the crisis spokesman for further details, lawyers for Ohtani issued a statement that the superstar was the victim of “massive theft.” Mizuhara was fired shortly thereafter, about 3:30 a.m. in Seoul.


“To summarize how I’m feeling right now, I’m just beyond shocked. It’s really hard to verbalize how I am feeling at this point.”


There is no doubt Ohtani’s emotions are still raw. A person he has trusted and made an integral part of his life for the last six-plus years betrayed him and, by all accounts, stole a large sum of money to pay off a gambling debt. Whether Ohtani finds a new interpreter or uses the one the Dodgers are providing, Ohtani needs to do a better job of vetting who is in his inner circle. Especially when Mizuhara’s credentials before becoming Ohtani’s interpreter were brought into question once the gambling reports surfaced.


What Happens Next?


Ohtani is the biggest star in MLB and signed with a team that in many corners is an overwhelming favorite to win the World Series. The spotlight was already going to be on Ohtani and the Dodgers, this will just make it more of a critical light.

With how the story sits now, it is unlikely that Ohtani will face a fine or suspension by MLB, especially until the various investigations are concluded. But now Ohtani will face the wrath of fans from opposing teams and bad puns by media members and those pretending to be.

It could be a little extra fuel for Ohtani, who wants to add a World Series ring to all of his stellar individual accomplishments. On the other hand, it could be a massive distraction if the narrative somehow turns out to be much different than what it is currently.

Steve Drumwright

Steve Drumwright is a lifelong baseball fan who retired as a player before he had the chance to be cut from the freshman team in high school. He recovered to become a sportswriter and have a successful journalism career at newspapers in Wisconsin and California. Follow him on Twitter and Threads @DrummerWrites.

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