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Baseball's Big Concern

Apr 01, 2024 03:40PM ● By Kelsey Swire
By Jim Gazzolo

As the boys of summer return to the field, yet another cloud is hanging over the head of America’s Pastime.

Baseball’s return is once again surrounded by controversy. 

As the Major Leagues start playing real games this week, the spotlight is on other issues off the field and surrounds its biggest star.

Shohei Ohtani signed a massive deal in the offseason to jump from the Angels to the Dodgers. The celebrated two-way star pitcher/outfielder had become the newest face of baseball.

He seemed to be the perfect marketing tool for a sport in need of new blood. This was a guy who had everything going his way. 

Given a $700 million contract the Dodgers, and all of baseball, needed this to work. It would set up a great season.

Yet as the games began in Korea, and the Dodgers opened against the Padres last week, news came out that some things aren’t quite right in the world of Ohtani.

It centers around gambling, something that has scared baseball in the past. 

Ohtani found himself in the middle of it all. Whether or not you think he is a victim or the source of the problem depends on your point of view. 

One thing is for sure, baseball doesn’t need this, not with him. 

The sport was tarnished for years by the Black Sox scandal of 1919 when the Chicago White Sox were said to have thrown the World Series. Then there was Pete Rose, the game’s leading hitter still not in the Hall of Fame.

Now it’s Ohtani and his former interpreter Ippei Mizuhara in a sticky situation. 

The Dodgers fired Mizuhara after it was reported that he stole a huge sum of money from Ohtani to cover gambling debts of around $4 million. That’s a lot of money to have missing.

But that is just the tip of the mystery.

This all began with a federal investigation into illegal sports gambling where Ohtani’s name appeared on nine $500,000 wire transfers to a California bookie.

Ohtani, who speaks little English, though his manager now says he understands more than most believe, was first said to know all about covering the bets according to a spokesman. 

One day later his camp said it was part of a “massive theft”.

I'm not sure all of that can be lost in translation.

Ohtani said this week that he had nothing to do with any gambling.

“Ippei has been stealing money from my account and has been telling lies,” Ohtani said Monday through a new interpreter, Will Ireton. “The first time I knew about Ippei's gambling was after the first game when we had the team meeting in the clubhouse.”

The Dodgers and Major League Baseball hope that is the case. However, the story has changed a time or two about just what happened with all that money.

It could be that Ohtani was helping out a friend, or it could be that a friend was covering for Ohtani. Or yes, he could be the victim of a huge crime committed by the guy he trusted the most.

There are still a lot of questions to be answered in this case and a lot is on the line, especially for baseball which needs to hit a home run to keep up with other sports competing for the entertainment dollar.

With betting in sports legal and on the rise, this is not likely to be the last of these types of stories. It’s just bad timing for baseball.

Now it has to figure out the true story behind the game’s biggest star.

Jim Gazzolo is a freelance writer who covers McNeese athletics. He is the host of Poke Nation on CBS-Lake Charles