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Not Even An Ippei Mizuhara Guilty Plea Will Take MLB Off The Hook

Shohei Ohtani #17 of the Los Angeles Dodgers, pictured with his translator, Ippei Mizuhara, prepares for a game against the Chicago White Sox at Camelback Ranch.
Christian Petersen/Getty Images

The New York Times reported Wednesday that Ippei Mizuhara, Shohei Ohtani's former interpreter, is negotiating a guilty plea for his alleged theft of millions of Ohtani's money to pay his gambling debts. The report also states that prosecutors discovered that the $4.5 million figure that was originally attached to Mizuhara's debts and later attached to the theft may have been an underestimate—the amount and fate of the extra money remain unclear.

[Update: A criminal complaint has been filed against Mizuhara. All the details here.]

Buying the initially muddied stories about Mizuhara's gambling habit and Ohtani paying off his debt through a series of $500k transactions—stories told by Mizuhara—required some level of belief that at least one of Mizuhara and Ohtani was a doofus. That story painted Mizuhara as a bumbling and unfortunate gambler in over his head, which meshed with the popular image of him pre-scandal; even after Ohtani's move to the Dodgers, which became a real monkey's paw moment for fans who wanted to see him play meaningful baseball, his and Mizuhara's relationship appeared obscenely wholesome. That story appears to be falling apart with each revelation in this saga: Prosecutors reportedly have evidence that Mizuhara changed the alert settings on Ohtani's bank account so Ohtani would no longer receive updates on money transfers.

While it is certainly in MLB's best interest that its biggest star not be responsible for wire fraud or illegal betting, the IRS and Department of Homeland Security presumably lack such interests. This would not be the first time that an athlete has lost millions of dollars to fraud committed by a trusted family member or business partner, but as far as I know, this would be the first for an interpreter. That Ohtani's agent, Nez Balelo, did not speak to Ohtani through a different interpreter once it became clear that Mizuhara was involved remains a glaring misstep. That the initial coverage of the subject wasn't able to distinguish between Mizuhara's statements and Ohtani's statements remains a fault in translation. Federal investigators have reportedly interviewed Ohtani on his relationship with Mizuhara; one would assume that they learned from Balelo's mistake.

Of course, not even an official guilty plea will change the minds of anyone who has already decided that Ohtani gambled and Mizuhara is his fall guy. Ohtani is a Dodger now, but that's hardly the primary explanation as to why people believe he gambled. The mind of the sports fan enjoys drama, scandal, and a good conspiracy theory; the sleaze of betting, even legal betting, doesn't require much effort to imagine the worst-case scenario. That it was MLB's biggest superstar who wound up in this position might seem like misfortune, but that's not the right word. MLB invited this problem, and the response from those fans, by throwing itself headlong into sports betting. It becomes easy to believe that the rot can only spread, and that MLB would do all it can to sweep it under the rug; it becomes almost desirable to see MLB get some sort of comeuppance for foisting this upon us. Lie down with dogs, and people will assume you have fleas.

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