21 March 2024

LA Dodgers baseball star Shohei Ohtani’s interpreter sacked after theft claims

21 March 2024

Japanese baseball star Shohei Ohtani’s interpreter and close friend has been sacked by the Los Angeles Dodgers following allegations of illegal gambling and theft from the player.

Interpreter Ippei Mizuhara, 39, was let go from the team on Wednesday following reports from the Los Angeles Times and ESPN about his alleged ties to an illegal bookmaker.

The team is in Seoul, South Korea, this week as Ohtani makes his Dodgers debut, and Mizuhara was in Los Angeles’ dugout during their season-opening win.

Mizuhara was seen regularly chatting with Ohtani, who was the Dodgers’ designated hitter, seemingly discussing his at-bats over a tablet computer.

“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,” law firm Berk Brettler LLP said in a statement on Wednesday.

Sports gambling is illegal in California, even as 38 states and the District of Columbia allow some form of it.

Mizuhara is a familiar face to baseball fans as Ohtani’s constant companion, interpreting for him with the media and at other appearances since Ohtani came to the US in 2017.

He even served as Ohtani’s catcher during the Home Run Derby at the 2021 All-Star Game.

When Ohtani left the Los Angeles Angels to sign a 700 million dollar (£547 million), 10-year contract with the Dodgers in December, the club also hired Mizuhara.

The Dodgers said in a statement they were “aware of media reports and are gathering information”.

“The team can confirm that interpreter Ippei Mizuhara has been terminated,” the statement said.

“The team has no further comment at this time.”

Dodgers manager Dave Roberts, speaking before Thursday’s final game in the series with the San Diego Padres, said there was no plan to have Ohtani sit out.

“That was not considered,” Roberts said.

“We’re here to play baseball. Yesterday we did a good job of focusing on the baseball game and we’ll do the same thing today.”

Roberts confirmed that Mizuhara had a meeting with the team on Wednesday but declined to elaborate.

He said he did not know Mizuhara’s whereabouts and said a different interpreter would be used.

“Anything with that meeting, I can’t comment,” he said, adding that “Shohei’s ready. I know that he’s preparing”.

Security at the Gocheok Sky Dome was stepped up on Thursday with police and dogs checking the hallways hours before the game started.

The Ohtani interpreter news comes a day after a reported bomb threat against Ohtani.

Police said they found no explosives.

On Tuesday, Mizuhara told ESPN that his bets were on international football, the NBA, the NFL and college football.

Major League Baseball (MLB) rules prohibit players and team employees from wagering – even legally – on baseball and also ban betting on other sports with illegal or offshore bookmakers.

“I never bet on baseball,” Mizuhara told ESPN.

“That’s 100%. I knew that rule … We have a meeting about that in spring training.”

The Associated Press could not immediately reach Mizuhara for comment.

Mizuhara was born in Japan and moved to the Los Angeles area in 1991 so his father could work as a chef.

He attended Diamond Bar High School in eastern Los Angeles County and graduated from the University of California, Riverside, in 2007.

After college, Mizuhara was hired by the Boston Red Sox as an interpreter for Japanese pitcher Hideki Okajima.

In 2013, he returned to Japan to translate for English-speaking players on the Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters.

That is where he first met Ohtani, who joined the team that same year.

After Ohtani signed with the Angels in 2017, the team hired Mizuhara to work as his personal interpreter.

ESPN said Mizuhara told the outlet this week he has been paid between 300,000 dollars (£235,000) and 500,000 dollars (£390,000) annually.

ESPN said it spoke to Mizuhara on Tuesday night, at which point the interpreter said Ohtani had paid his gambling debts at Mizuhara’s request.

After the statement from Ohtani’s lawyers saying the player was a victim of theft, ESPN says Mizuhara changed his story on Wednesday and claimed Ohtani had no knowledge of the gambling debts and had not transferred any money to bookmakers.

Mizuhara said he incurred more than one million dollars (£780,000) in debt by the end of 2022 and his losses increased from there.

“I’m terrible (at gambling). Never going to do it again. Never won any money,” Mizuhara said.

“I mean, I dug myself a hole and it kept on getting bigger, and it meant I had to bet bigger to get out of it and just kept on losing. It’s like a snowball effect.”

It would be the biggest gambling scandal for baseball since Pete Rose agreed to a lifetime ban in 1989 after an investigation for MLB by lawyer John Dowd found Rose placed numerous bets on the Cincinnati Reds to win from 1985-87 while playing for and managing the team.

The MLB gambling policy, posted in every locker room, prohibits players and team employees from wagering – even legally – on baseball and also bans betting on other sports with illegal or offshore bookmakers.

Betting on baseball is punishable with a one-year ban from the sport.

The penalty for betting on other sports illegally is at the commissioner’s discretion.

Ohtani’s stardom has spread worldwide, even as the two-way player has remained largely media-shy.

The news of his recent marriage to Mamiko Tanaka shocked fans from Japan to the US.

While he underwent surgery on his right elbow last September and will not pitch this season, he will be used as a designated hitter and there is a possibility he could play in the field.

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