Another Ohtani story that isn’t going away

Thanks to today’s digital world, one wonders if any baseball player ever had as much written about him as Shohei Ohtani. We know about his family, how his high school coach had pitchers clean rest rooms to help them remain humility and avoid becoming prima donnas.

We know how he rarely ventured out into public with the Fighters, preferring to stay in the team’s dorms in Sapporo during the season, and in Kamagaya, Chiba, in the offseason. There he would train and send others out to get food.

We know how he laid out his life goals on a chart in high school and has continued to strive toward them, while remaining humble and eminently likeable while being perhaps the best baseball player who ever lived.

We know the story of how he dreamed of being a two-way player in a pro baseball word that didn’t permit them to exist, but was willing to sacrifice that to turn pro and fulfill whatever role his team assigned him.

On Thursday, we got a new Ohtani story. This one is how his name surfaced in an FBI investigation of an illegal book-making business through transfers of millions of dollars from his bank account to the bookie, something for which his longtime companion and interpreter, Ippei Mizuhara is ready to take the fall.

Mizuhara grew up in California and was an English-language interpreter for the Nippon Ham Fighters’ imports when Ohtani played there. He joined Ohtani with the Los Angeles Angels, where he served as interpreter, driver and overall factotum. When Ohtani moved to the Los Angeles Dodgers over the winter on team sports’ richest-ever contract, Ippei came along.

The Los Angeles Times and ESPN had both been working on this story, and the Times got the jump, early Thursday morning in Seoul, where the Dodgers had just beaten the San Diego Padres in MLB’s opening game.

On Tuesday, Mizuhara spoke with ESPN for 90 minutes, in which he confirmed an Ohtani spokesperson’s story that Ohtani had lent Mizuhara the money to cover his gambling debts and made the wire transfers himself under the interpreter’s guidance.

Mizuhara told an elaborate story, how Ohtani told him he could never do this again, and ordered the transfers in his name rather than lending his friend the money to pay on his own because he didn’t trust Mizuhara not to gamble it away.

The next day, Ohtani’s side retracted the original story, and a statement from a law firm accused Mizuhara of ordering the wire transfers on his own without Ohtani’s knowledge.

The detailed story rings true, how Ohtani, over and over, did this incredibly gracious thing to get his friend off the hook of a $4.5 million debt. When asked to comment again by ESPN, Mizuhara changed his tune, and said he had absconded with the money and that Ohtani had no knowledge of it.

My first inclination was to believe the original story, that Ohtani tried to be helpful, but when the adult, in this case Ohtani’s agent, Nez Balelo, was contacted, alarm bells went off, lawyers were called and stories were changed to insulate Ohtani from the fallout.

While there are many possible stories and only one is true, we have now been offered two:

  • Mizuhara has, as he said, a gambling addiction, and that Ohtani helped him out.
  • Mizuhara has a gambling addiction and paid his debts through “massive theft.”

And then there is a third major possibility, that Ohtani is the one who blew millions of dollars gambling and that both stories were concocted to shield him from the inevitable suspension for breaking the MLB rules against unlicensed gambling.

The Dodgers appear eager to make this go away, but that won’t happen until the parties involved come clean and tell the real story and why it was so difficult to do that in the first place.

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