MIKE BURKE

Allegany Communications Sports

Not lost in the cloak of the Seoul, South Korea darkness with which Major League Baseball opened its 2024 season was the news that the Los Angeles Dodgers fired Ippei Mizuhara, the interpreter and best buddy of international megastar Shohei Ohtani.

Ohtani’s representatives have accused Ippei of engaging in “massive theft,” using the player’s money to place bets with an alleged illegal bookmaker who is under federal investigation.

Thankfully, I’m not one who tries to fool himself into “understanding” the gambling culture, nor, thankfully, have I ever wanted to understand it, as I have fooled myself into too many other shortcomings.

Yet, as we’ve mentioned here before, the way Major League Baseball, the NFL, NBA and every other sport – professional or what used to be known as amateur – has begun to embrace gambling internally continues to grow more and more unsettling. Or at least it should.

MLB cannot be surprised by this potential Ohtani blockbuster because stories like these are bound to keep happening as gambling has become such a large and lucrative part of the culture of its day-to-day existence.

You can’t watch a game on television without seeing pre-game shows sponsored by gambling or being inundated with parlays, not only before the game, but during the game by the teams’ play-by-play announcers.

Gambling addictions are destructive and, fueled by its lusty greed, MLB is helping to further bake in those addictions all for the sake of a buck.

The Ohtani story is messy and is bound to become messier for MLB as more details become forthcoming as in a matter of hours it went from the consensual helping out an old buddy to he said-he said.

To begin, an Ohtani representative went on record with ESPN saying Ohtani transferred $4.5 million himself to a bookmaker on behalf of Ippei, with Ippei himself saying Ohtani never bet, but felt pad for his old chum and paid off his debt so Ippei would never do it again.

Yeah, that’s how it works. I promise.

But then, perhaps after receiving some help to re-think the perceptions, a spokesperson for Ohtani said Ippei was lying after his 90-minute statement to ESPN, and Ohtani’s lawyers claimed “massive theft.”

Ippei then said Ohtani had zero knowledge of his debt or his gambling habit in general, and just like that, everybody’s story had changed.

One of two things could have happened here, and this is where the whole perception-is-reality thing comes into play:

Ippei is every bit the terrible gambler that Art Schlicter was but was lucky enough to be attached to Ohtani and his riches, which afforded him leeway with his bookie in the event a large payout would become necessary, which it did. Ohtani then did his friend a favor and cleared the debt, which left him entirely too close to illegal activity, triggering the lawyers to get involved to clear Ohtani.

Or, and this is where it gets sinister, maybe Ippei was the middleman for Ohtani and the bookie, with Ohtani funding “Ippei’s” account and Ippei placing the bets for him in Ippei’s name from Ippei’s account.

More often than not in illegal gambling, to quote Deep Throat, “These are not very bright guys, and things got out of hand” because Ohtani paying the bookie himself was a clear red flag, which, all in the name of crisis control, made Ippei the usual and most necessary suspect and, in turn, the fall guy.

Now that the cat has finally been seen out of the bag in the form of MLB’s most internationally-acclaimed star, we have to ask ourselves, if Ohtani himself is not betting on baseball then why the effort to conceal it if it’s legal, because why would we care that Ippei Mizuhara gambles?

So many unanswered questions. Until a transparent and thorough investigation is conducted the perception is likely to be MLB is protecting its biggest star.

Better be careful with that. As politics continues to teach us, the truth can always be found in the cover-up.

Mike Burke writes about sports and other stuff for Allegany Communications. He began covering sports for the Prince George’s Sentinel in 1981 and joined the Cumberland Times-News sports staff in 1984, serving as sports editor for over 30 years. Contact him at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @MikeBurkeMDT