What the G.O.A.T. is not saying

In Hokkaido, where Shohei Ohtani got his start in pro baseball, a staple of every Fighters game’s entertainment is the Fighters Girls dancing to “What Does the Fox Say?” Ironically, this year’s big conundrum involves what Ohtani, arguably the GOAT – or greatest of all time – is saying, or more specifically, is not saying, about his former interpreter and payments of millions of dollars to an illegal bookmaker.

Somewhere, there are truths behind the accusations that have swirled around Ohtani’s longtime former interpreter, Ippei Mizuhara, and these truths, if revealed, will lead to either embarrassment or criminal liability for Ohtani.

Here’s what we know from the facts:

  1. Large sums of money were transferred from an account belonging to Shohei Ohtani to an illegal bookmaker.
  2. The repeated transfers either did not raise any alarms with Ohtani’s bank, or the bank’s concerns were alleviated by someone with authority over the account.
  3. The bookmaker allowed a gambler to run up debts in the millions of dollars.
  4. Betting with a bookmaker is a crime in California.
  5. Placing illegal bets can involve sanctions from MLB. Betting on baseball brings an automatic one-year suspension, while betting on games one is involved in brings lifetime ineligibility.

After that, all we have are claims, accusations and admissions.

Mizuhara said he and not Ohtani was the one gambling. An attorney claims the bookmaker never had any contact with Ohtani. Ohtani’s claimed Mizuhara “stole” the money and that he would cooperate with law enforcement, and the bookmaker claims he never spoke or met with Ohtani.

Because of the incomplete information, we do not know:

  • Who was gambling?
  • What they were gambling on?
  • How were the transfers authorized and security concerns met?
  • Why did the bookmaker allow those debts to accumulate?

Details are missing that would answer these questions, and until someone testifies under oath under threat of perjury, we probably won’t know the real answers.

Because the answers’ revelation will lead to either criminal liability or embarrassment on the part of Ohtani, and it is still in the interest of everyone involved to not say anything. Sure, Ohtani has accused Mizuhara of theft, but that is different from filing a criminal complaint, and providing sworn testimony.

Because the bookmaker is being investigated, there is a chance he will end up submitting to an FBI interview, in which it is illegal to lie. My guess is that until that happens, and he is indicted, and the evidence becomes public, there is no reason to think we will ever know the truth.

For the bookmaker to allow someone to continue running up millions of dollars in debts, he had to believe the person making those bets could pay them. If the gambler was Ohtani, that is not a problem, but Mizuhara would have needed to provide some guarantee that he was good for the money.

The U.S. media has all but assumed Ohtani could not have known about the transfers, because his agent and advisors would have made sure he had that financial situation in order.

It is hard to believe they didn’t demand he set things up so this couldn’t happen.

But it’s also easy to believe that the guy who steadfastly believed he was right that a pro ballplayer could both pitch and hit when all of pro baseball told him no one could, would be stubborn enough to leave someone he trusted implicitly in complete and total control of an account with millions of dollars the way his mother had looked after his finances when he played in Japan.

If that is how Mizuhara “stole” his money, then the truth being covered up is that Ohtani rejected the good advice of his agent’s accountants and made the “theft” possible.

It is also possible Mizuhara fooled Ohtani into thinking the payments were not for gambling, although I find that hard to believe.

If Ohtani knew about the transfers and that they were for gambling debts, as Mizuhara originally claimed, then Ohtani would be an accessory to illegal gambling, and technically face criminal liability. This is also plausible. I lived in California for 24 years and didn’t know that paying a friend’s illegal gambling debts was also illegal.

This is entirely plausible. It is not easy to know how best to respond to the demands of a loved one who is an addict. Ohtani, however, would not be completely ignorant of the consequences of enabling an addict after the death of Angels teammate Tyler Skaggs. It also explains how the bookmaker would believe Ohtani was good for Mizuhara’s debts.

In this case, Mizhura’s admission of theft and Ohtani’s accusation would also constitute lies. This could involve cooperation between the two to bury it by Ohtani never pressing charges and Mizuhara never going after Ohtani for accusing him in public.

The third possibility is that Ohtani was himself gambling, which involves both criminal liability and possible MLB sanctions. I consider this unlikely, but it remains a possibility as long as questions remain unanswered.

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