Shohei Ohtani, Dodgers keep mum in aftermath of interpreter theft accusation


SEOUL — For years, it was nearly impossible to see Shohei Ohtani anywhere without his longtime interpreter, Ippei Mizuhara, just a few steps away. On Thursday, following Mizuhara’s abrupt firing over his involvement with illegal gambling, it was almost impossible to see Ohtani at all.

Ohtani didn’t enter the Los Angeles Dodgers clubhouse during the 50 minutes reporters were allowed inside before Thursday’s Seoul Series finale against the San Diego Padres. Nor did he so much as venture into the hallway leading from the clubhouse to the dugout, where more than three dozen cameras from English-speaking, Japanese and Korean news outlets awaited during batting practice. His first public sighting came when he emerged onto the on-deck circle in the bottom of the first inning, ripping a first-pitch single off Joe Musgrove and just missing a pair of home runs in the 15-11 loss.

The two-time MVP was guarded at his locker by a pair of team public relations officials postgame, telling Japanese reporters “otsukaresama” — which loosely translates to “thank you for your hard work” — as he exited behind one of the officials without answering any questions before the club boarded its flight back to Los Angeles.

The Dodgers fired Mizuhara after Ohtani’s representatives accused him of engaging in a “massive theft,” using the player’s money to place bets with an allegedly illegal bookmaker under federal investigation.

The accusation by Berk Brettler, the firm representing Ohtani, followed an inquiry from The Los Angeles Times. The newspaper learned Ohtani’s name surfaced in an investigation of an Orange County resident named Mathew Bowyer. According to the newspaper, Mizuhara, 39, placed bets with Bowyer.

Mizuhara did not respond to a request for comment. Ohtani is not currently facing discipline, according to an MLB official, nor is he believed to be under active investigation by the league.


Dodgers fire Shohei Ohtani’s interpreter amid ‘massive theft’ allegations

No players spoke publicly pregame as the barren home clubhouse swelled with reporters. Few signs remained of Mizuhara’s brief tenure with the franchise. As Ohtani strolled through the dugout Thursday night, he did so without his usual companion.

“It kind of is what it is,” Mookie Betts said postgame. “I hope Sho is good, but at the end of the day, you have to make sure we take care of your job. Like I said, no matter what cards we’re dealt, you have to go play them.”

The Dodgers lost the final game of the series, 15-11. Ohtani, who went 1-for-5 with a sacrifice fly in the second inning, didn’t answer questions postgame and was escorted out of the clubhouse by a team PR official.

There was no consideration of having Ohtani sit Thursday’s game, Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said, noting that Ohtani was sitting in a hitter’s meeting as Roberts spoke with reporters at around 3:15 p.m. local time. An abnormal day still featured a normal routine.

Much, of course, had changed over the last 24 hours. Ohtani had been seen on the broadcast laughing with Mizuhara during the ninth inning of Wednesday night’s season-opening win as if nothing was amiss. The scene felt normal, a celebratory moment after Ohtani’s first game with his new club after signing a 10-year, $700 million deal with the Dodgers this past winter. The image of Ohtani’s time in the major leagues, of his ascent to global stardom with the Angels and now the Dodgers, included Mizuhara as his shadow.

After the game, Mizuhara stood in front of an unsuspecting clubhouse and addressed the news that would become public the following morning.

The meeting was brief, and came together abruptly, according to multiple people in the room. They described a “weird,” “strange” scene that included Dodgers owner Mark Walter and CEO Stan Kasten.

“Anything with that, the meeting,” Roberts said Thursday, “I can’t comment.”

Shohei Ohtani and replacement interpreter Will Ireton stand in the Dodgers dugout on Thursday. (Chung Sung-Jun / Getty Images)

Within the room, according to a team source, Mizuhara told a version of the story similar to what he told ESPN in his initial interview, which took place Tuesday.

According to a spokesman for Ohtani, the player’s involvement initially was described as aiding Mizuhara. Ohtani transferred funds to cover Mizuhara’s gambling debts of roughly $4.5 million. The money did not go directly to Mizuhara because Ohtani didn’t trust his interpreter to not “gamble it away.” Before Mizuhara’s interview with ESPN was published, however, the spokesman disavowed Mizuhara’s account and said Ohtani’s lawyers would issue a statement.

Mizuhara said on Wednesday that Ohtani had no knowledge of his gambling activity, debts or attempts to pay them.

By the time media were allowed into the home clubhouse at Gocheok Skydome after the meeting, Mizuhara had ducked into the hallway, only emerging toward the end of Ohtani’s scrum with reporters to quickly interpret three English questions. By morning, with initial reports released by the Los Angeles Times and ESPN well-circulated, the Dodgers confirmed Mizuhara — who had been Ohtani’s primary interpreter since arriving in Major League Baseball and whose relationship with Ohtani even predated that — had been fired. Yet confusion persisted among those within the organization, especially after Ohtani’s representatives disavowed many of Mizuhara’s claims in his interview with ESPN.

Speaking in front of a room of media members packed in to ask about a story sure to draw global headlines, Roberts declined to comment on the nature of the accusations and the decision-making process and timing behind Mizuhara’s firing.

Kasten declined to comment before Thursday’s game. So too did president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman.

“There’s nothing to say,” Friedman said. “Literally nothing to say.”

The Dodgers quickly settled on a temporary contingency plan for Thursday. Due to an MLB rule limiting the number of interpreters in the dugout, the Dodgers had come to lean heavily on Mizuhara as the go-between for the coaching staff to communicate with Yoshinobu Yamamoto, who was chased after just one inning in his major-league debut Thursday after signing a 12-year, $325 million deal this past offseason. Mizuhara’s role, at least for the day, was filled by Will Ireton. The Dodgers’ manager of performance operations, Ireton had served as the club’s interpreter for Japanese right-hander Kenta Maeda during much of Maeda’s four seasons in Los Angeles.

Yamamoto pointed to the focus remaining on the game, rather than the story that had made headlines.

“I do not have much information on it,” Yamamoto said through interpreter Yoshihiro Sonoda. “So I don’t have anything to say.”

The next steps remain murky. According to a league source, MLB hasn’t been contacted by prosecutors. The MLBPA declined comment, and Ohtani’s agent, Nez Balelo, declined multiple requests for comment after being present at Gocheok Sky Dome much of the week.

It is the second noteworthy off-field incident in as many days during the Dodgers’ weeklong trip to South Korea after a reported bomb threat was made ahead of Wednesday’s Opening Day, casting a potential pall over the run-up to the most anticipated season the Dodgers have had since moving to Los Angeles. The Dodgers’ $1.2 billion offseason, headlined by the addition of Ohtani, was always going to draw added attention, and with it, scrutiny.

Said Roberts: “We’re here to play baseball.”

— The Athletic‘s Andy McCullough, Dennis Lin, Sam Blum and Britt Ghiroli contributed to this report.

(Top photo of Shohei Ohtani on Thursday: Chung Sung-Jun / Getty Images)

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