Dodgers’ Shohei Ohtani comes out swinging, says interpreter ‘has told lies’

LOS ANGELES — Carrying a black folder that contained in detail in Japanese what he sought to say, Shohei Ohtani laid out a striking, shocking claim in clear terms.

Ippei Mizuhara, Ohtani’s interpreter and close friend since arriving in Major League Baseball “has been stealing money from my account and has told lies,” Ohtani alleged Monday in his first public comments since Mizuhara’s firing. The Los Angeles Dodgers star unspooled a version of events in which he claimed Mizuhara admitted he took money from his accounts to pay off at least $4.5 million in debts to an illegal bookmaker.

The allegations were firm, and bluntly stated, putting the focus on direct claims that Mizuhara lied to him and Dodgers officials in addition to stealing a massive sum.

Ohtani sat calmly as he read his 12-minute statement alongside new interpreter Will Ireton in front of some 70 reporters, with the Los Angeles Dodgers’ top brass (including CEO Stan Kasten, chief marketing officer Lon Rosen, president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman and general manager Brandon Gomes) as well as manager Dave Roberts and teammates Kiké Hernández 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 interpreted his answers into English, and did not take any questions from the media. Video cameras were forced to remain outside. These were the first public statements Ohtani had made with anyone other than Mizuhara by his side since his introductory press conference with the Los Angeles Angels in December 2017.

This was his chance to echo what his representatives have messaged since Mizuhara was fired on Thursday when the news of the payments went public.

First, Ohtani said he never bet on baseball or any other sport and “never have asked someone to do it on my behalf. I have never (gone) through a bookmaker to bet on sports.”

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

Mizuahra, Ohtani alleged, never told him that those news outlets were pursuing a story regarding those payments, despite Mizuhara claiming that Ohtani was in the know both on the payments and the conversations he was having with ESPN.

Ohtani said he had no idea about Mizuhara’s gambling issues until Mizuhara addressed the clubhouse in a rushed, eerie 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 parse out some of what Mizuhara was saying in English, though without an interpreter standing next to him, he couldn’t understand all of it.

The two walked out of the home clubhouse at the Gocheok Skydome together. All appeared well, though Ohtani sensed “there was something amiss,” he said Monday.

Mizuhara had told Ohtani they would speak privately upon returning to the team hotel, according to the player. It was there, Ohtani said, that Mizuhara revealed the extent of his gambling debts and admitted he was using the account and sending money to Bowyer. In subsequent conversations with his representatives at CAA as well as the Dodgers, “(they) at that moment found out as well that they have been lied to.”

While Ohtani said he and his lawyers are having “the proper authorities” handle these allegations, it’s unclear which authorities they have reported this to. Mizuhara and Bowyer are the subject of an IRS investigation. Bowyer remains the subject of a federal investigation as well.

Major League Baseball opened its investigation into the saga on Friday. While it’s not clear whether the league has formally requested an interview with Ohtani as part of its investigation, Ohtani said, “I am completely assisting in all investigations that are taking place right now.”

How Mizuhara got access to Ohtani’s account, let alone sent multiple transfers without Ohtani’s knowledge, remains a massive question. Ohtani and Mizuhara had far from the typical player-interpreter relationship. Their friendship featured the two together essentially 365 days a year, with Mizuhara serving as Ohtani’s driver early in his big-league career, and, in recent months, catch partner and dogsitter among other duties. A key part of the investigation will be to determine how much money left Ohtani’s account, and how it moved from Ohtani’s account allegedly without his knowledge.

Also under scrutiny is how the Dodgers and Ohtani’s representatives entrusted Mizuhara enough to have him be the lone point person to Ohtani while they knew Mizuhara was the subject of this line of questioning. Rather, they followed their typical order of operations: Every communication from the Dodgers, agent Nez Balelo or his representatives at CAA went through Mizuhara, even without Ohtani present. That meant no one from the Dodgers or CAA supposedly ever talked to Ohtani directly about the looming story involving Mizuhara before the interpreter addressed the club after Wednesday’s season opener. Mizuhara claimed to ESPN he never misrepresented anything while interpreting for Ohtani.

“I’m very saddened and shocked that someone who I trusted has done this,” Ohtani said.

And while Ohtani said in strong terms that he never bet on baseball, or any sports, a pending investigation will have to take a closer look at what wagers Mizuhara made. The former interpreter claimed repeatedly to ESPN that he bet on international soccer, NBA, NFL and college football, but never on baseball.

In breaking his silence, Ohtani made clear there is now a divide with the person he’s been closest to since he was in his early 20s. The specificity behind his claims — that Mizuhara stole from him to pay off Bowyer, and lied about it not just to Dodgers and CAA officials but to Ohtani himself — have clearly painted a version of events.

One that Ohtani and his camp better hope is right.

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

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