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The gambling scandal around Shohei Ohtani is going to be a headache for baseball

Serious questions remain about how millions were wired from one of Major League Baseball's star players accounts to an illegal booking operation.


“I’m beyond shocked.” 

That was Los Angeles Dodgers superstar Shohei Ohtani, the highest-paid player in North American sports history, describing his state of mind Monday following days of speculation about his potential role in a gambling scandal involving his friend and longtime interpreter, Ippei Mizuhara. 

No questions were asked at this news conference (because none were allowed), but plenty remain. 

My colleague Clarissa-Jan Lim published this helpful breakdown of the underlying scandal, which centers on $4.5 million in wire transfers that went from Ohtani’s account to an illegal booking operation in California. The payments are being scrutinized in a federal investigation, and Ohtani hasn’t been accused of wrongdoing. 

On Monday, he sat beside his new team-appointed interpreter and read from prepared remarks, stated his now-former interpreter “had been stealing” from his account and “has told lies.” 

Addressing Mizuhara’s now-retracted statement to ESPN that Ohtani had authorized the transfers to pay off the interpreter’s gambling debt, Ohtani said

Media had reached out to my camp inquiring about my potential involvement in this sports betting. Ippei never revealed to me that there was this media inquiry, and to the representatives in my camp, Ippei [told them] I, on behalf of a friend, paid off debt. Upon further questioning it was revealed that it was actually, in fact, Ippei who was in debt, and told my representatives that I was paying off those debts. And all of this has been a complete lie.

Ohtani said he would cooperate with the federal and MLB probes, and with that, this news conference ended with much having been said but little having been settled. Which may seem odd, because no one who (A) would have intimate knowledge of what happened and (B) has spoken on this matter publicly is contradicting what Ohtani is saying. Currently I mean. The fact Mizuhara floated a far more salacious possibility during his ESPN interview — that Ohtani was knowingly paying an illegal betting operation — is not the kind of thing journalists are going to ignore just because a source wants to retract their statement. (Here’s a helpful hint, everyone: The retraction is likely to make a journalist even more curious.) And the fact Major League Baseball and the Dodgers aren’t exactly incentivized by the prospect of finding their biggest star at the center of a scandal is another interesting wrinkle in this story. 

So on the bright side, Ohtani didn’t confirm the worst possible outcome on Monday. He didn’t say he’d bet on baseball — breaking league betting rules, subjecting himself to a potential lifetime ban, and ruining the appearance of ethical and financial integrity for a league that’s wedded itself to sports betting companies.

But we are still early in an investigation that will ultimately determine how millions of dollars made it from his account to an illegal gambling ring. The best possible outcome for Ohtani, it seems, would be for investigations to conclude that a man he associated with as a friend for more than a decade was bilking him to the tune of millions of dollars. That may cause him some embarrassment. But at least it would avoid punishment.