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Shohei Ohtani’s Interpreter Gives Two Different Stories

Shohei Ohtani #17 of the Los Angeles Dodgers talks to his interpreter Ippei Mizuhara in the dugout during the 2024 Seoul Series game between Los Angeles Dodgers and San Diego Padres.
Masterpress/Getty Images

The Los Angeles Dodgers fired Shohei Ohtani's interpreter Ippei Mizuhara on Wednesday after multiple reports that he had allegedly handled a gambling debt with millions of dollars of Ohtani's money. But the way that both Mizuhara and Ohtani's camp revealed this news was extraordinarily strange.

On Wednesday evening, The Los Angeles Times first broke the news with a quadruple-bylined article, titled "Shohei Ohtani’s attorneys accuse interpreter of ‘massive theft’ tied to alleged gambling." The original version of the article, posted at 5:13 p.m. ET, said that Ohtani's name had come up in the federal investigation of Mathew Bowyer and his alleged illegal bookmaking operation in California. Ohtani's representatives said that in response to inquiries from the Times, they investigated Mizuhara and learned that Ohtani "has been the victim of a massive theft," though the statement did not name Mizuhara as the perpetrator.

The story, which has since been updated with further details regarding the investigation into Bowyer, raised some questions. Why had Ohtani's name come up in the investigation of Bowyer? Even if Mizuhara is his close friend, how did he have access to Ohtani's bank account in his capacity as an interpreter? An article by Tisha Thompson at ESPN, published roughly 40 minutes later, alternately clarified and muddled parts of the story.

ESPN had spoken to Mizuhara on Tuesday night, before the Times article was published, in a 90-minute interview arranged by a spokesperson for Ohtani. In the interview, Mizuhara said he had met Bowyer while playing poker in 2021, and started to place bets with him on credit later in the year, after previously using DraftKings. According to ESPN's report, Mizuhara's gambling debts grew to the amount of $4.5 million by 2023.

Mizuhara told ESPN that at that point, he asked Ohtani to pay off his debt, and promised to pay the money back; Ohtani agreed to pay it off but didn't trust Mizuhara not to gamble the money away. Instead, the ballplayer wired the money directly to Bowyer's associate in several installments, with Mizuhara watching. Ohtani's name, legally romanized as "Shohei Otani," appeared on two payments reviewed by ESPN. Mizuhara, as well as various other sources, told ESPN that the transfers were solely to pay off the interpreter's debt, and that Ohtani does not gamble and had never spoken with Bowyer.

"I want everyone to know Shohei had zero involvement in betting," Mizuhara said to ESPN. "I want people to know I did not know this was illegal. I learned my lesson the hard way. I will never do sports betting ever again."

However, on Wednesday, when ESPN asked "Ohtani's camp" about what Mizuhara had said, a spokesperson contacted Ohtani's attorneys, who disavowed all the claims from the interpreter and said that he had actually stolen the money from Ohtani—the version of events in the Times' report. When Mizuhara spoke again with ESPN on Wednesday, he recanted what he had said in his interview and claimed that Ohtani actually knew nothing about his gambling debt. The interpreter was still in the dugout for yesterday's game against the San Diego Padres in Seoul, but a Dodgers spokesperson told ESPN that afterward in the clubhouse, Mizuhara told the team about the pending report and said he had a gambling addiction.

Some statements have remained somewhat consistent between the interview Mizuhara gave Tuesday and Ohtani's attorneys' statement on Wednesday. Mizuhara maintains that he bet on a few sports but never on baseball. Mizuhara appears to be the one who directly dealt with Bowyer; Bowyer's lawyer, Diane Bass, told both outlets that Bowyer has not "had contact in any way" with Ohtani. (In the ESPN article, a source said that Bowyer had noticed Ohtani's name on the transfers but didn't ask questions; he did, however, see a business opportunity in allowing others to believe that Ohtani was a client.)

Even with these two investigative reports, we're left with an incomplete picture. Why did Mizuhara sit down for a candid interview explaining step-by-step how Ohtani helped him pay off his gambling debts, then recant within 24 hours? Did Ohtani's camp not consult his attorneys until after ESPN had spoken to Mizuhara?

And then there's the bigger question: Does MLB look into this further? The league lucked into a generational superstar in Shohei Ohtani, and now he—regardless of whether he personally gambled or not—is part of a sports betting scandal under federal investigation. Ohtani was not made available to the media after the Dodgers' game against the Padres on Thursday, and MLB has yet to make a statement. If the league is hoping this goes away quietly, that's not a safe bet.

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