A few thoughts about Shohei Ohtani’s news conference

Los Angeles Dodgers superstar Shohei Ohtani and his translator Ippei Mizuhara recently became the focus of an investigation regarding sports betting involving an illegal bookmaker in California (sports betting is not legal there). I covered a few of the details in this article here last week.

Monday, Ohtani held a news conference to address the situation. Or, I should more correctly say, he made a statement in front of reporters and did not take questions. You can read Ohtani’s entire statement here (it’s an Athletic article, subscription required).

Here are the most important parts, summarized by the Associated Press:

“I am very saddened and shocked someone whom I trusted has done this,” the Japanese star said while sitting next to Will Ireton, the team’s manager of performance operations, who translated.

“Ippei has been stealing money from my account and has been telling lies,” Ohtani said. “I never bet on sports or have willfully sent money to the bookmaker.”

He added:

“I never bet on baseball or any other sports or never have asked somebody to do it on my behalf, and I have never gone through a bookmaker to bet on sports. and was never asked to assist betting payment for anyone else,” Ohtani said.

Of course, this became controversial because Mizuhara, in a long interview given to ESPN, had said that Ohtani gave him the money willingly to pay off the debt. This would not only have hurt Ohtani’s baseball career, but it would have violated numerous federal laws. To that, Ohtani said:

“All of this has been a complete lie,” Ohtani said. “Ippei obviously basically didn’t tell me about the media inquiry. So Ippei has been telling everyone around that he has been communicating with me on this account to the media and my team, and that hasn’t been true.”

After that, there was a Dodgers team meeting held where the team was playing in Seoul, South Korea. To that, Ohtani said:

“Just prior to the meeting, I was told by Ippei, ‘Hey, let’s talk one to one in the hotel after the meeting,’” Ohtani said. “So up until that team meeting, I didn’t know that Ippei had a gambling addiction and was in debt. Obviously I never agreed to pay for the debt or make payments to the bookmaker, and finally when we went back to the hotel, that was when I found out that he had a massive debt, and it was revealed to me during that meeting that Ippei admitted that he was sending money using my account to the bookmaker. At that moment, it was an absurd thing that was happening and I contacted my representatives at that point.”

I tend to agree with this take by baseball writer Craig Calcaterra (who is also a former attorney):

To me, this makes the most sense. Also:

Further to that, Mizuhara, as a gambler in serious debt, would likely say anything that would save his own skin, including lying in a long interview given to ESPN — which:

Indeed, that’s exactly what we have here, and given Ohtani’s reputation throughout his baseball career, my inclination is to believe him, and not a translator who also reportedly has lied about quite a number of things on his resume, including where he went to college. That link also says:

The Boston Red Sox have also disputed a fact found in Mizuhara’s public biography of having worked for the team as an interpreter for Hideki Okajima.

“Please know that we have thoroughly checked our files to ensure we are providing accurate information,” the Red Sox mentioned in their statement.

MLB is investigating this, as are various authorities, including the IRS and FBI (the latter, investigating the alleged bookie). I am certain there will be facts uncovered at some point. They seem very likely to exonerate Ohtani of any wrongdoing.

It should be noted that Mizuhara said none of the bets he made were on baseball. So any “But Pete Rose!” comparisons are nonsense. Still, this is the sort of thing that is going to dance around the periphery of baseball given their partnerships with gambling operations. MLB has begun to look at gaming as a revenue source, and my feeling is they need to be careful what they wish for.

As always, we await developments.

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