April 18, 2024

Guided by two pages of notes in a black folder, Shohei Ohtani offered a step-by-step account of how he discovered his former interpreter had allegedly stolen from him to cover gambling losses.

Ohtani said he never bet on sports. He said he never authorized payments to an illegal bookmaker. He said he was a victim of theft.

More than 12 minutes later, Ohtani departed the interview room at Dodger Stadium. His side of the story was told, but some pertinent questions remained unanswered.

How did Ippei Mizuhara gain access to Ohtani’s bank account?

How did millions of dollars in payments evade detection from the person who oversaw Ohtani’s finances?

Among the missing details that could have bolstered the credibility of his story was a mystery that has puzzled everyone from the time he moved to the major leagues six years ago: Who is Shohei Ohtani?

Ohtani has kept a distance not only from the journalists who chronicle him, but also the players with whom he’s shared the field. Almost nothing is known about his private life, which is why when he was asked about his marriage during the Dodgers’ recent visit to South Korea, Freddie Freeman perked up and joked, “I gotta hear this one.”

Ohtani has the right to make this choice. He isn’t under any obligation to share more than he wants.

There’s a downside to this approach, however. Outside of fanatics who have abandoned any sense of reason, how can anyone believe what Ohtani says with any level of certainty when they have absolutely no idea who he is?

Believing Ohtani’s story about Mizuhara requires one to believe that Ohtani is who he portrays himself to be, an overgrown yakyu shonen — a boy who lives, eats and breathes baseball — with almost no other interests. His rumored apathy for money could explain how he failed to notice that Mizuhara had stolen millions of dollars from him.

Shohei Ohtani throws the ball before the Dodgers faced the Angels in a spring training game Monday night.

Shohei Ohtani throws the ball before the Dodgers faced the Angels in a spring training game Monday night.

(Jason Armond/Los Angeles Times)

This very well could be who he is. No evidence has surfaced to the contrary. When he played for the Nippon-Ham Fighters of the Japanese league, he never moved out of the team’s dormitories, which were primarily inhabited by first- and second-year players.

“Anybody else would want to get out of Nippon-Ham’s dorms in a hurry, move into their own place, call over a girlfriend,” his former high school coach said at the time. “He’s not like that. He doesn’t go out to eat or drink. He just likes to be close to somewhere he can train.”

That coach, Hiroshi Sasaki, said he tried to talk Ohtani into delaying his move to the United States by another two years, as doing so would have allowed the two-way player to be classified as an unrestricted free agent instead of an international amateur. The decision to make the jump as a 23-year-old might have cost Ohtani more than $200 million.

Even in the majors, Ohtani has maintained his yakyu shonen image. In his last few years playing for the Angels, Ohtani insisted he wasn’t looking ahead to free agency and was focused on the current season. The claim invited skepticism. But he ignored obvious warning signs and blew out his elbow in his all-out effort to keep the Angels on the periphery of postseason contention, possibly costing himself another $100 million. Maybe he actually wasn’t looking ahead.

On the other hand, Ohtani is almost 30 years old. He was one of the top students in his high school class, according to Sasaki, and his intelligence is apparent in his quick wit and strong diction. Can someone with his mental capacity live a life of just baseball, baseball, baseball? His recent marriage already showed there was more to him than his profession.

Based on what’s known about Ohtani, it’s entirely possible that he was the victim of an unscrupulous interpreter who exploited his trust. It’s also entirely possible there’s more to this story.

The ambiguity Ohtani has wanted to maintain about his true nature has added a layer of uncertainty to an already-confusing situation. His character won’t provide any insight into the scandal because little is known about his character. If anything, the opposite will be true. The details that emerge from this case will reveal who he is.

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