Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Questions about wire transfers totaling $4.5 million from Shohei Ohtani’s account to a bookmaker led to the Wednesday firing of his Los Angeles Dodgers interpreter, raising concerns about Ohtani’s potential involvement in a major gambling scandal.

The evolving narrative from Ohtani’s camp has undoubtedly fueled speculation that Ohtani himself might be involved in the gambling scandal. Despite no concrete evidence, w’ve seen since a multitude of people jump on board the conspiracy that it’s really Ohtani who has the crippling gambling addiction and not his interpreter, Ippei Mizuhara.

The way the story transpired and the inconsistencies that emerged almost immediately, has not helped to tamp down rampant rumors and innuendo about Ohtani’s potential involvement. And in many ways, it fulfills many tenants of the major sports gambling controversy that has recently been predicted because of the proliferation and saturation of sports betting.

This is the most troubling development from ESPN’s Tisha Thompson’s reporting:

Initially, a spokesman for Ohtani told ESPN the slugger had transferred the funds to cover Mizuhara’s gambling debt. The spokesman presented Mizuhara to ESPN for a 90-minute interview Tuesday night, during which Mizuhara laid out his account in great detail. However, as ESPN prepared to publish the story Wednesday, the spokesman disavowed Mizuhara’s account and said Ohtani’s lawyers would issue a statement.

“In the course of responding to recent media inquiries, we discovered that Shohei has been the victim of a massive theft, and we are turning the matter over to the authorities,” read the statement from Berk Brettler LLP.

The spokesman declined to answer any further questions, and the statement did not specify whom they believe perpetrated the alleged theft.

When asked by ESPN on Wednesday afternoon — after the Berk Brettler statement — if he had been accused of theft, Mizuhara said he was told he could not comment but declined to say by whom.

Let’s take a step back here, shall we?

There’s a school of thought that sees Ohtani directly involved. While there’s not much mounting evidence to support that claim, many of us would not hesitate to establish that there is something amiss here.

Here’s a timeline of events, as far as what we know from ESPN and Thompson’s reporting:

  • In a statement to ESPN, an Ohtani spokesperson revealed that Ohtani himself had transferred money to a bookmaker on behalf of his interpreter.
  • Ippei Mizuhara spoke to ESPN after Ohtani’s representatives set up the interview, but Ohtani’s side later reversed course and rejected Ippei’s statements.
  • During his ESPN interview, Ippei insisted Ohtani had never gambled himself. He explained that Ohtani had paid off his (Ippei’s) debt, possibly out of sympathy, to discourage future gambling.
  • In a complete reversal, Ohtani’s lawyers countered Ippei’s story by accusing him of “massive theft,” directly contradicting his claims about Ohtani’s awareness.
  • Finally, Ippei backtracked, stating Ohtani did not know about his gambling.

So, in a surprising turn of events, Ohtani’s camp arranged for Ippei to speak with ESPN, perhaps hoping to clarify things. However, Ippei’s narrative took a different direction. He vehemently denied Ohtani’s involvement in the gambling, portraying himself as the sole culprit. He painted Ohtani as a kind soul who, out of pity, paid off his gambling debt to prevent future transgressions.

However, Ohtani’s legal team threw a wrench into that narrative. They countered Ippei’s story with a bombshell accusation of “massive theft,” suggesting Ohtani was the victim, not a knowing participant in the alleged gambling ring.

The reasons behind Ohtani’s team disavowing Ippei remain shrouded in secrecy. Did Ippei fabricate a story to shield himself or Ohtani? Did he inadvertently reveal details that implicated Ohtani more deeply than anticipated? Perhaps Ohtani’s camp changed strategies after the interview.

With conflicting narratives and unanswered questions, the situation surrounding Ohtani and Ippei remains murky, leaving a cloud of uncertainty over the true nature of the events.

The narrative has changed in a mere matter of hours since Ohtani’s lawyers got involved. Initially, it seemed Ohtani might have been helping a friend in trouble. Now, his legal team is alleging “massive theft” by Ippei.

It’s important to note that neither Ippei nor the alleged gambling ringleader has been charged with any crimes at this point. Additionally, law enforcement has not contacted Major League Baseball. The severity of the accusations from Ohtani’s lawyers seems out of proportion, considering the lack of formal charges. Some might find it questionable to make such damning claims before the legal process unfolds.

Fair or not, the situation casts a shadow on Ohtani himself. The initial admission of transferring money to a bookmaker raises questions about his awareness. While there are no concrete accusations against Ohtani of participating in gambling, the swift narrative shift from his team leaves room for doubt.

Without clarity on Ohtani’s knowledge, it’s irresponsible to say his interpreter is taking the fall definitively. However, the evolving story necessitates acknowledging the possibility that Ohtani knew something.

Moving forward, we absolutely have to acknowledge Ohtani’s team’s initial statement and subsequent retraction. This dramatic change in narrative is perhaps the most concerning aspect of the entire situation.

Another concerning aspect is that the story isn’t going away anytime soon. The Dodgers have presented themselves as the best team that money — and deferred payments — can buy and have already entered the 2024 MLB regular season with a target on their backs. While you likely wouldn’t know that their regular season has begun unless you were a colossal baseball buff — that’s a different story for a different day — it’s already hung over the Dodgers, as they’ve inadvertently invited public scrutiny despite not intending to do so; at least not to this magnitude.

We saw as much of that Thursday when Yoshinobu Yamamoto, a close personal friend of Ohtani’s, (who signed the biggest deal on the market this offseason that didn’t go to Ohtani) get shelled in his Major League debut and, in turn, drew additional scrutiny.

Naturally, the situation surrounding Ohtani has unfortunately opened the door for jokes and speculation to permeate media coverage, regardless of their connection to the actual story.

And yet, despite the swirling allegations, a report from The Athletic on Thursday indicated that Major League Baseball is not currently disciplining Ohtani. Additionally, an MLB official stated that Ohtani is not believed to be under active investigation by the league.

But that likely won’t matter in the court of public opinion anyway. Because the memes, tweets, and speculation aren’t going anywhere.

[ESPN, The Athletic]

About Sam Neumann

Since the beginning of 2023, Sam has been a staff writer for Awful Announcing and The Comeback. A 2021 graduate of Temple University, Sam is a Charlotte native, who currently calls Greenville, South Carolina his home. He also has a love/hate relationship with the New York Mets and Jets.