Dodgers’ Shohei Ohtani comes out swinging, says interpreter ‘lied’

Dodgers’ Shohei Ohtani comes out swinging, says interpreter ‘lied’
Dodgers’ Shohei Ohtani comes out swinging, says interpreter ‘lied’

LOS ANGELES — Carrying a black folder that detailed in Japanese what he wanted to say, Shohei Ohtani made a startling, shocking statement in plain words.

Ipei Mizuhara, Ohtani’s translator and close friend since he arrived in Major League Baseball, «steals money from my account and tells lies,» Ohtani claimed Monday in his first public comments since Mizuhara’s firing. The Los Angeles Dodgers star released a version of events in which he claims Mizuhara admitted to taking money from his accounts to pay off at least $4.5 million in debts owed to an illegal bookmaker.

The allegations were harsh and directly stated, focusing on direct allegations that Mizuhara had lied to him and Dodgers officials in addition to stealing a huge sum of money.

Ohtani sat calmly as he read his 12-minute statement with new translator Will Ireton in front of about 70 reporters, with top Los Angeles Dodgers management (including CEO Stan Kasten, chief marketing officer Lon Rosen, president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman and general manager Brandon Gomez), as well as manager Dave Roberts and teammates Quique Hernandez and Joe Kelly. No Dodgers official other than Roberts has spoken publicly since Mizuhara’s firing.

Ohtani read from his prepared list of notes, staring blankly ahead as Ireton translated his answers into English, and did not take any questions from the media. Video cameras were forced to stay outside. These were the first public statements Ohtani made with anyone other than Mizuhara by his side since his introductory press conference with the Los Angeles Angels in December 2017.

It was his chance to repeat messages from his representatives after Mizuhara was fired on Thursday when news of the payments became public.

First, Ohtani said he has never bet on baseball or any other sport and “never asked anyone to do so on my behalf. I’ve never (went through) a bookie to bet on sports.»

Second, Ohtani said he did not make the wire transfers to alleged illegal bookmaker Matthew Bowyer, the alleged transaction that thrust Ohtani and Mizuhara into the spotlight and on the radar of reporters from the Los Angeles Times and ESPN.

Mizuhara, Ohtani claims, never told him that those news outlets were pursuing a story about those payments, even though Mizuhara claims Ohtani was aware of both the payments and the conversations he had with ESPN.

Ohtani said he had no idea of ​​Mizuhara’s gambling problems until Mizuhara approached the club in a quick, snarky postgame meeting that included Kasten, Friedman and owner Mark Walter in Seoul, South Korea. It was there, Ohtani said Monday, that he was able to understand some of what Mizuhara was saying in English, though without an interpreter standing by, he couldn’t understand everything.

The two walked out of the home club at Gocheok Skydome together. Everything seemed fine, although Ohtani sensed «something was wrong,» he said Monday.

Mizuhara had told Ohtani they would talk privately after they returned to the team hotel, according to the player. It was there, Ohtani said, that Mizuhara disclosed the extent of his gambling debts and admitted to using the account and sending money to Bauer. In subsequent conversations with his representatives at CAA, as well as the Dodgers, «(they) at that point also understood that they had been lied to.»

While Ohtani said he and his lawyers had the «appropriate authorities» address the allegations, it’s unclear which authorities they reported it to. Mizuhara and Bowyer are under investigation by the IRS. Bauer also remains the subject of a federal investigation.

Major League Baseball began its investigation into the saga on Friday. While it’s unclear whether the league has officially requested an interview with Ohtani as part of its investigation, Ohtani said, «I am fully assisting with any investigations that are going on right now.»

How Mizuhara gained access to Ohtani’s account, let alone sent multiple transfers without Ohtani’s knowledge, remains a huge question. Ohtani and Mizuhara had a far from typical player-translator relationship. Their friendship involved the two of them together essentially 365 days a year, with Mizuhara serving as Ohtani’s driver early in his big league career and in recent months as his catching partner and dog sitter, among other duties. A key part of the investigation will be determining how much money left Ohtani’s account and how it moved out of Ohtani’s account, allegedly without his knowledge.

Also under scrutiny is how the Dodgers and Otani’s representatives trusted Mizuhara enough to have him be Otani’s only guy while knowing Mizuhara was the subject of that line of questioning. Rather, they followed their typical order of operations: Any communication from the Dodgers, agent Nez Balello or his representatives at CAA went through Mizuhara, even without Ohtani present. That meant no one from the Dodgers or CAA had spoken directly with Ohtani about the looming storyline involving Mizuhara before the interpreter approached the club after Wednesday’s season opener. Mizuhara claimed to ESPN that he never misrepresented anything while translating for Ohtani.

«I’m very saddened and shocked that someone I trust has done this,» Ohtani said.

And while Ohtani has been adamant that he never bet on baseball or other sports, the upcoming investigation will have to take a closer look at what bets Mizuhara placed. The former translator has repeatedly claimed to ESPN that he has bet on international soccer, the NBA, the NFL and college football, but never baseball.

Breaking his silence, Ohtani made it clear that he’s now split from the man he’s been closest to since his early 20s. The specifics behind his claims — that Mizuhara stole from him to pay Bower and lied about it not only to the Dodgers and CAA officials, but also to Ohtani himself — clearly outline a version of events.

One that Ohtani and his camp hope is correct.

(Shohei Ohtani photo: Jae C. Hong/Associated Press)

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