Plaschke: Do you still believe in Shohei Ohtani? I’m not sure

By | March 28, 2024

It still doesn’t feel good.

It still makes no sense.

As much as Shohei Ohtani and his advisors try to clean it up, something still stinks in all this gambling garbage.

When a smiling Ohtani steps onto the Dodger Stadium field for their home opener on Thursday, I want to believe it.

Read more: What you need to know about the Shohei Ohtani gambling scandal involving interpreters

I want to believe that the best player in the game is as pure as his image.

I want to believe that the beloved global superstar is as honorable as he seems.

I want to believe that the legendary Ohtani magic that the Dodgers just paid $700 million for is real.

But I just can’t do it. Not quite. Not yet. Maybe someday, but not now.

The gambling controversy that has engulfed Ohtani over the past week has taken too many weird twists and turns for me to have complete confidence in its final destination.

This can’t be anything. This could be anything. There is still so much unknown. There is still so much confusing. Leak by agonizing leak, the uncertainty dims the aura of an icon once thought untouchable.

Dodgers star Shohei Ohtani warms up before a spring training game against the Angels at Angels Stadium Tuesday.Dodgers star Shohei Ohtani warms up before a spring training game against the Angels at Angels Stadium Tuesday.

The doubt is ugly. The disbelief is disturbing. It doesn’t feel good to write this. I suspect a lot of Dodgers fans aren’t feeling too good about living it.

Does Shohei Ohtani have a gambling problem, or a money management problem, or neither, or both?

Is Shohei Ohtani cunning enough to throw his closest colleague under the bus to save himself, or was he just naive enough to let that colleague rip him off for millions?

Ohtani spoke but did not answer questions.

The season has started, but it doesn’t end.

A cloud lingers over Ohtani’s previously pristine presence, and as much as everyone wants to believe otherwise, it’s not going away anytime soon.

Read more: How the saga of Shohei Ohtani and his interpreter unfolded – and why it’s not over yet

The storm hit last week when Ohtani’s name was linked to a federal investigation into illegal sports gambling. The Times reported that his name appeared on nine wire transfers of $500,000 each, with the money allegedly going to suspected Orange County bookmaker Mathew Bowyer.

In an interview with ESPN arranged by a spokesperson for Ohtani, Ohtani’s longtime translator Ippei Mizuhara said Ohtani sent the money to cover Mizuhara’s gambling debts. The spokesperson even provided ESPN with a quote from Ohtani saying he was aware of the payments.

The story was repeated by Mizuhara and club officials to the entire Dodger team during a meeting at the Dodgers’ clubhouse in Seoul after their opening night victory over the San Diego Padres.

The next morning, however, Ohtani’s representatives completely changed course, claiming Ohtani was unaware of the transfers and accusing Mizuhara of a “massive theft.”

Mizuhara was promptly fired by the Dodgers, and at a Monday afternoon news conference at which he took no questions, Ohtani repeated the claim that he had been cut.

Dodgers star Shohei Ohtani and interpreter Ippei Mizuhara will participate in spring training in Phoenix on February 18.Dodgers star Shohei Ohtani and interpreter Ippei Mizuhara will participate in spring training in Phoenix on February 18.

Dodgers star Shohei Ohtani and interpreter Ippei Mizuhara (left) participate in spring training on February 18 in Phoenix. (Ashley Landis/Associated Press)

“He stole money from my bank account… he lied to everyone,” Ohtani said in Japanese, later adding: “Of course, I never had anything to do with sports betting and I absolutely never sent money to a bookmaker. To be honest, I don’t think shock is the right word. I’ve spent the past week in something different that I can’t put into words. That is difficult to put into words now.”

I can express it in several words.

It makes me sick to think that Mizuhara could pull off a heist of at least $4.5 million without Ohtani or his accountants or his bankers or someone noticed that the money was missing.

I’m skeptical of the idea that a bookmaker would extend $4.5 million in credit to a casual gambler, and then collect that money without confirming the source to ensure the money wasn’t stolen.

Most of all, I’m incredulous at the idea that Mizuhara could give a completely plausible, Ohtani-approved explanation of the payments in one interview, and then, seemingly hours later, be called a liar and accused of theft by the same Ohtani representatives.

Read more: Minus ‘buffer’ from Ippei Mizuhara, Dodgers engage more directly with Shohei Ohtani

It is not right. Moreover, it is astonishing that Ohtani’s crisis management teams – some of the same people who represented the likes of Harvey Weinstein and Danny Masterson – would not have realized that this is wrong.

By the way, why does Ohtani still employ Agent Nez Balelo? If Ohtani really felt like he was being robbed by his interpreter and was truly unaware of the missing money, he should have already fired the man paid to protect him, right? Hmmm.

There’s someone lying there somewhere. Someone is hiding something. I don’t know who does what, and I’m certainly not the only one.

Although sports gambling is still illegal in California, it is one of only twelve states where it is still a crime and that doesn’t seem to be the biggest problem here.

The biggest concern is that a player who is essentially a minority owner of the Dodgers has been linked to payments to an illegal bookmaking operation totaling at least $4.5 million, amid swirls of changing stories and conflicting stories.

What else is going on when your name is associated with so much veiled money in such a routine environment? How many different nasty elements can seep through the cracks and engulf you in your recklessness? If your highest-paid player is so careless with $4.5 million, how much can you trust him as the caretaker of your 4 million fans?

Shohei Ohtani hits during the Dodgers' spring training against the Angels at Dodger Stadium on Monday.Shohei Ohtani hits during the Dodgers' spring training against the Angels at Dodger Stadium on Monday.

Shohei Ohtani hits during the Dodgers’ spring training against the Angels at Dodger Stadium on Monday. (Jason Armond/Los Angeles Times)

Interestingly, when Major League Baseball announced its investigation into the matter last week, it “cited allegations involving Shohei Ohtani and Ippei Mizuhara.”

Read that again. The statement did not only mention Mizuhara. It has cited both.

Neither man has been charged with a crime. Ohtani has not been accused of placing bets, on baseball or otherwise, and in his prepared statement he said he has “never bet on anything, or bet for anyone on a sporting event, or asked anyone to bet for me. ”

Yet Mizuhara is ruined and Ohtani infected, and it may be months before the truth finally comes to light.

There are no winners here. There is only a loss of innocence, a summer of purgatory and the sad cynicism surrounding a man formerly known in Japan as: kanpeki na hito.

“The perfect person.”

Maybe someday, but not now.

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This story originally appeared in the Los Angeles Times.

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