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Shohei Ohtani’s Scandal

Written by: Gabriel León  🇻🇪

Image via Baseball America

If you follow Major League Baseball today, you undoubtedly know who Shohei Ohtani is. Ohtani began his career in his native country of Japan, playing for Hokkaido Nippon Ham-Fighters in 2013. Ohtani would go on to become a five-time all-star in the Nippon Professional Baseball league, even winning MVP one of those years for the division the Ham-Fighters played in, which is the Pacific League

Since coming to the United States to play in the Major Leagues in 2018, Ohtani has quickly become one of the most recognizable faces in baseball. Playing in one of the best markets in the world, Los Angeles, with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, Ohtani would continue his already impressive career in the MLB. He would become a three-time all-star and two-time MVP for the American League while hitting over 100 home runs

During this past off-season, Ohtani signed with the Los Angeles Dodgers, in a record contract of 700 million dollars, for 10 years of service with the team. Though, Ohtani’s contract is structured in an interesting manner. Instead of earning 70 million dollars a year, he only earns 2 million dollars while the 680 million dollars he is owed has been deferred until 2043

These mind-boggling numbers are a testament to just how impressive Ohtani is as a baseball player. He is a two-way player; by that, I mean that he can effectively pitch as well as bat, which is something that many players are not able to do, at least at a high level. Ohtani also recently won the World Baseball Classic for Japan (think of the World Cup but for baseball), winning MVP of the tournament. 

Aside from being one of the best players in Major League Baseball, he is also always giving back to his community. Ohtani recently donated 60,000 baseball gloves to several Japanese elementary schools and gave one-million dollars in relief to the victims of the earthquake that hit Japan earlier this year.

Unfortunately, it has not all been good for Ohtani since he came to the U.S. Ohtani is from Ōshū, a city in Japan, and he only speaks Japanese. Consequently, heShohei had an interpreter named Ippei Mizuhara that would help him give interviews.

 Mizuhara was Ohtani’s interpreter since he came to the U.S.and they became good friends because of all the time they spent together. Mizuhara was even Ohtani’s personal driver until he got his license in the U. S. Mizuhara was also able to catch Ohtani’s bullpen sessions and he became similar to a personal assistant. 

As an Angel’s manager, Joe Madden put it, they were like “peanut butter and jelly.” Everything would come crashing down in March of 2024, when it was revealed to the public that Mizuhara had been betting via a bookmaker named Mathew Boyer, whom he  met in 2021.

 By the end of 2022, Mizuhara had already gone 1 million dollars into debt and by 2023, his debts were at a staggering four million dollars. Mizuhara then turned to Ohtani to help him with the debt he had accumulated. Federal agents would subsequently execute a search warrant on Boyer, the bookmaker’s, home in October of 2023. They also found that two $500,000 payments made to Boyer had Ohtani’s name connected to them.

 In early 2024, ESPN and the Los Angeles Timeswould learn of the payments in Ohtani’s name. A few months later the Dodgers are playing the Padres in Seoul to open the season and Mizuhara reveals to the team that he has a gambling problem after the first game of a two game series. However, prior to this game, it is unclear whether Ohtani knew about the payments or gambling issue. 

On March 25th, 2024, Ohtani finally broke his silence regarding the situation. He spoke of a conversation between himself and Mizuhara at a hotel in Seoul after the Dodgers first game of the season. In his interview, Ohtani stated “Obviously I never agreed to pay off the debt or make payments to the bookmaker. And finally, when we went to the hotel and talked one to one, that was when I found out he has massive debt, and it was revealed during the meeting that Mizuhara admitted that he was sending money using my account to the bookmaker.” 

Ohtani repeatedly denies involvement in paying the bookmaker which is strictly forbidden by the MLB and illegal in the state of California. In the 12-minute interview, Ohtani concluded by saying “I do want to make it clear I never bet on sports or have willfully sent money to the bookmaker. To summarize how I'm feeling right now, I'm beyond shocked. It's hard to verbalize how I'm feeling at this point.” The IRS, MLB, Department of Homeland Security and the Attorney's Office for the Central District of California launched investigations into the incident. 

On April 11, 2024, according to CBS sports, the justice department came to the conclusion that "Mr. (Ippei) Mizuhara stole this money largely to finance his voracious appetite for illegal sports betting," as stated by U.S. Attorney Martin Estrada.

 Prosecutors say Ohtani is a victim and had no prior knowledge of the gambling or the theft. Mizuhara was charged with bank fraud for stealing up to sixteen million dollars from Ohtani and turned himself in the next day. 

This is a complex scandal, one that is still new and ongoing. My personal opinion, and one that is shared by many baseball fans that have followed Ohtani’s rise to fame, is that he is innocent and really was a victim to fraud. He seems like a genuine person who is laser focused on his craft. I hope Shohei Ohtani can put this behind him and refocus on baseball after what has been a chaotic start to his season as a Los Angeles Dodger. 

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