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Saturday, May 18, 2024

Following a Long List of Blows, MLB Walks for a Change

  • Officials say the Dodgers’ superstar is ‘considered a victim in this case.’
  • The federal complaint details how large Mizuhara’s gambling addiction had grown.
David Banks-USA TODAY Sports

When not a lot else has necessarily gone well lately for MLB, the league can now breathe a sigh of relief as Shohei Ohtani, baseball’s biggest star, is not facing criminal charges from the gambling scandal that has surrounded him.

As Ohtani’s former interpreter, Ippei Mizuhara, is now the subject of felony federal bank fraud charges stemming from more than $16 million in theft from Ohtani, U.S. attorney Martin Estrada said the Dodgers’ phenom is “considered a victim in this case.” To that end, Mizuhara is alleged to have used a series of tactics to hide a serious gambling addiction and his theft from Ohtani, including identifying himself as the Dodgers’ phenom to “trick and deceive” bank employees into authorizing transfers. 

“Our investigation has revealed that due to the position of trust he occupied with Mr. Ohtani, Mr. Mizuhara had unique access to Mr. Ohtani’s finances,” Estrada said. “Mr. Mizuhara used and abused that position of trust in order to take advantage of Mr. Ohtani.”

This Isn’t Rose, A-Rod, or Bauer

Over its long history, MLB has seen some of its biggest stars tainted, often irreparably, by various scandals, whether it be Pete Rose and gambling, Alex Rodriguez and performance-enhancing drugs, or Trevor Bauer and domestic violence, to name a few. But Ohtani threatened to top all those prior situations and render unfathomable damage upon the sport had he been implicated, given his unique two-way abilities, global fan appeal, and record-setting $700 million contract. 

Even compared to the last six months, Ohtani’s clearance by federal authorities represents a dose of good news for the league. Just since the end of last season, MLB has grappled with an ongoing uniform debacle, disruption in the regional sports network space, a spate of pitcher injuries, tension with the MLB Players Association, and the ongoing A’s saga that is now extending to Sacramento, among other issues. 

MLB, however, has not detailed where its own internal investigation of Ohtani stands, though it said Thursday that it “will wait until resolution of the criminal proceeding to determine whether further investigation is warranted.” Serious questions also remain about how Ohtani or his accountants did not detect earlier that so much money was going missing. But critically for the league, the federal charges from the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California show no culpability for Ohtani and no wagering by Mizuhara on baseball. Ohtani has claimed innocence and has been cooperating with investigators. 

Mizuhara’s Many Issues

Previously considered one of Ohtani’s closest friends, Mizuhara could receive a fine of up to $1 million and/or 30 years in prison. Among the key details in the federal complaint against Mizuhara:

  • Mizuhara generated a total of $142.3 million in winning bets and $182.9 million in losing ones and, as a result, amassed a gambling debt of nearly $41 million. 
  • His average bet was about $12,800, and over roughly a 25-month period, he was placing an average of nearly 25 bets per day.
  • Mizuhara was fully aware of the lack of winning, and even allegedly joked at one point to a bookmaker—not named in the complaint but previously reported to be Mathew Bowyer—in 2022, “I’m terrible at this sport betting thing, huh? Lol.”

“Technically, I did steal from [Ohtani],” Mizuhara is alleged to have told the bookmaker. “It’s all over for me.”

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