April 18, 2024

The camera shot of the dugout looked reminiscent of so many before.

Shohei Ohtani approaching his long-time interpreter and close friend Ippei Mizuhara. The two exchanging a few words while gazing out at the field. Each of them cracking a smile and sharing a laugh, as if no major scandal was bubbling behind the scenes.

Those were the images that flashed across SportsNet LA’s broadcast in the ninth inning of the Dodgers’ opening day win on Wednesday — a seemingly friendly interaction between Ohtani and Mizuhara at the end of Ohtani’s victorious regular-season debut with the team.

Only, everything was not OK.

By the next morning, Ohtani’s relationship with Mizuhara had permanently been stained.

As the Times first reported, representatives of Ohtani accused his interpreter of engaging in a “massive theft” of the two-way star’s funds, with millions of dollars of Ohtani’s money allegedly used to pay off gambling debts Mizuhara owed to a bookmaker.

Many within the Dodgers organization seemed shocked by the whiplash turn of events during the past 24 hours and were hesitant to speak about the issue that immediately sparked intense social media speculation.

The story came to light after Ohtani’s name surfaced in a federal investigation into Orange County resident Mathew Bowyer, an alleged illegal bookmaker who is the target of a federal investigation

Mizuhara, who has been Ohtani’s personal interpreter throughout his MLB career, and has known the 29-year-old since Ohtani’s playing days in Japan’s Nippon Professional Baseball league almost a decade ago, was accused of theft in a statement by the West Hollywood law firm Berk Brettler, which represents Ohtani.

“In the course of responding to recent media inquiries, we discovered that Shohei has been the victim of a massive theft and we are turning the matter over to the authorities,” the statement read.

Thursday morning local time in South Korea — where the Dodgers are opening their season with an international series against the San Diego Padres — the Dodgers announced Mizuhara had been fired.

“The Dodgers are aware of media reports and are gathering information,” the team said in a statement. “The team can confirm that interpreter Ippei Mizuhara has been terminated. The team has no further comment at this time.”

Neither Mizuhara, Ohtani nor Bowyer have been charged with any crimes. None of the bets in the question are known to have involved baseball games. And no one has alleged Ohtani to have placed any bets himself.

Prior to the Dodgers series finale in Seoul on Thursday, manager Dave Roberts declined multiple times to comment on details of the situation.

Ohtani was in the Dodgers lineup as their designated hitter for Thursday’s series-finale at Gocheok Sky Dome.

While Ohtani and Mizuhara appeared to be copacetic on the field Wednesday night, details of the scandal emerged in the Dodgers’ clubhouse postgame.

As ESPN first reported, Mizuhara addressed the team following the 5-2 win over the San Diego Padres, according to people with knowledge of the situation not authorized to discuss it publicly.

Mizuhara told the team a news story would soon be coming out detailing the situation, but he gave no indication of his alleged theft nor any impending departure from the team.

Instead, according to people with knowledge of the situation, Mizuhara offered a story similar to the one he told ESPN on the record Tuesday.

Mizuhara claimed that he asked Ohtani last year to pay off his gambling debt, ESPN reported, and that, while Ohtani was unhappy with Mizuhara, the two-time MVP agreed. Per Mizuhara’s account, Ohtani then used his computer to send wire transfers to an associate of Bowyer’s, the bookmaker at the center of the federal investigation.

“[Ohtani] said he would help me out,” Mizuhara told ESPN, “to make sure I never do this again.”

By Thursday morning in Seoul, however, the story had changed.

Ohtani’s representatives made their accusations about Mizuhara’s involvement in the “massive theft,” leading to his immediate firing by the team Mizuhara was an employee of the Dodgers, just as he had been of the Angels during Ohtani’s tenure with that team.

Mizuhara also recanted details of his initial story to ESPN, the outlet reported. In his second version of the story, Mizuhara told ESPN that Ohtani had no knowledge of his gambling debts, nor had he transferred money to Bowyer’s associate.

Mizuhara also told ESPN that he was speaking to them again on his own accord.

The change of stories came as a surprise to many in the Dodgers traveling party on Thursday, who were unsure of what to make of all the conflicting information.

One player wondered how Ohtani’s seemingly infallible relationship with Mizuhara could end under such scandalous circumstances. Another quipped he was simply trying to stay away from public speculation running rampant on social media.

In Roberts’ pregame press conference, the manager repeatedly declined to answer questions pertaining to Mizuhara’s Wednesday night address to the team.

“I can’t say anything,” Roberts said.

As of Thursday, Ohtani was not facing any discipline from Major League Baseball, according to a person with knowledge of the situation granted anonymity. The league was not believed to be actively investigating the claims, either. According to the person, MLB has yet to hear from any law enforcement officials pertaining to the allegations.

It remains unclear exactly what changed with Mizuhara’s status between Wednesday night and his firing Thursday, and how much Ohtani knew about his interpreter’s actions leading up to his termination.

The last public sighting of the two longtime friends together came after Mizuhara’s postgame address, when he translated three brief answers of Ohtani’s during a press availability in front of his locker.

At the time, there was no indication their relationship was strained — a perception only reinforced by the friendly exchange SNLA had minutes earlier broadcast on TV.

Interpreter changes

In the wake of Mizuhara’s firing, Roberts said that Will Ireton, the team’s manager of performance operations, will serve as Ohtani’s interpreter in the interim.

Ireton — who previously spent three years at Kenta Maeda’s interpreter and is nicknamed “Will the Thrill” for his outgoing personality — was also tasked to be pitcher Yoshinobu Yamamoto’s interpreter during Thursday’s game.

Yamamoto has another personal interpreter, Yoshihiro Sonoda. But because MLB rules limit teams to having only one interpreter in the dugout during games, Mizuhara was Yamamoto’s interpreter during pitching appearances this spring.

Ireton has been a secondary interpreter for Yamamoto this spring, primarily involved in the Japanese pitcher’s baseball-related conversations around the facility.


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