Shohei Ohtani interpreter controversy, explained: Why Dodgers fired Ippei Mizuhara after alleged theft, illegal gambling

The Dodgers fired Shohei Ohtani’s longtime friend and interpreter Ippei Mizuhara on Wednesday amid allegations of Mizuhara engaging in a “massive theft” of Ohtani’s funds to bet on sports.

Mizuhara’s firing came on the same day the Los Angeles Times dropped a bombshell report detailing his alleged ties to Mathew Bowyer, a Southern California bookmaker under federal investigation. More than a dozen people have been charged as part of a wider probe into illegal sports gambling by the same prosecution team, including former Dodgers star Yasiel Puig.

Ohtani’s representatives inquired into Mizuhara’s actions after the Times discovered that Ohtani’s name had surfaced in the investigation into Bowyer.

“In the course of responding to recent media inquiries, we discovered that Shohei has been the victim of a massive theft and we are turning the matter over to the authorities,” West Hollywood law firm Berk Bettler announced in a statement.

Here’s what you need to know about the allegations swirling around Mizuhara.

Shohei Ohtani interpreter firing, explained

Mizuhara, who joined the Dodgers this offseason after Ohtani signed his blockbuster contract, was in the team’s dugout Wednesday during their season-opener against the Padres in Seoul. Within hours, he had been fired.

Ohtani has not spoken about the situation yet. He was not available before the finale of the Seoul Series, and after Thursday’s game game, his locker room was guarded by members of Los Angeles’ PR team. They told reporters he was not available for interviews. 

A spokesman for Ohtani initially told ESPN that the player had transferred millions of dollars to cover Mizuhara’s gambling debt and connected Mizuhara to ESPN for an interview.

“Obviously, he [Ohtani] wasn’t happy about it and said he would help me out to make sure I never do this again,” Mizuhara told ESPN. “He decided to pay it off for me.”

On Wednesday afternoon, Mizuhara recanted his statement. Instead, he told ESPN that Ohtani had no knowledge of his longtime interpreter’s gambling debts. As such, the Japanese supernova had not knowingly transferred the money to cover Mizuhara’s losses.

Ohtani’s spokesman also denied Mizuhara’s original account and said Ohtani’s lawyers would issue a statement. In that statement, Ohtani’s lawyers claimed the 29-year-old star was “the victim of a massive theft.”

The questions and accusations surround at least $4.5 million in wire transfers from Ohtani’s account, ESPN’s Tisha Thompson reported. Federal authorities discovered wire payments from Ohtani’s account while investigating Bowyer’s alleged bookmaking cabal.

Despite the contradicting stories about the wire transfers, Mizuhara was adamant in his interview with ESPN that Ohtani had “zero involvement” in his betting. He said that he had previously placed bets on DraftKings and believed that bets placed through Bowyer were legal.

Mizuhara met Bowyer during at a San Diego poker game back in 2021, he told ESPN. He started placing bets with Bowyer shortly thereafter. His debt surpassed $1 million by the end of 2022 and continued to soar in the following months and years.

“I’m terrible [at gambling.] Never going to do it again. Never won any money,” Mizuhara said Tuesday. “I mean, I dug myself a hole and it kept on getting bigger, and it meant I had to bet bigger to get out of it and just kept on losing. It’s like a snowball effect.”

There was a meeting that took place between Mizuhara and the Dodgers clubhouse before the news went public. Dodgers owner Mark Walter and CEO Stan Kasten were at the meeting, however, Kasten declined to comment about the events. So did Dodgers manager Dave Roberts, and president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman. 

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

It was reported on Friday that a number of Ohtani’s former teammates said the two-way sensation “never paid attention to other sports” so it’s “unlikely Ippei was betting on [Ohtani’s] behalf,” according to Jeff Fletcher of the Orange County Register

In a statement released by MLB on Friday, the league says they have opened an investigation into the incident. There is no timeline for when those findings will be revealed. 

Who is Shohei Ohtani’s interpreter?

Born in Japan but raised in Southern California, Mizuhara first connected with Ohtani while serving as an interpreter for American players on Ohtani’s NPB team back in Japan, the Nippon-Ham Fighters. The Angels signed him shortly after Ohtani agreed to join the franchise in 2017.

He served in the role for the better part of six seasons, stepping away briefly to continue communications with Ohtani during the 2021-22 MLB lockout.

Mizuhara offered a series of services for Ohtani outside of the realm of interpreting, delivering groceries for the Japanese superstar, throwing to Ohtani during side sessions, watching tape of opposition pitchers and studying scouting reports. He caught for Ohtani during the 2021 Home Run Derby and was in the dugout for Japan’s World Baseball Classic-winning team in 2023.

When Ohtani joined the Dodgers as a free agent after the 2023 MLB season, Mizuhara left the Angels to join the Dodgers as well.

The interpreter has served as a confidant for Ohtani over the course of his professional career, having first made contact with the youngster back in 2013 as an 18-year old.

Did Ippei Mizuhara bet on baseball?

Mizuhara bet on international soccer, the NBA, the NFL and college football, but never on baseball, he told ESPN.

“I never bet on baseball,” Mizuhara told ESPN. “That’s 100%. I knew that rule. … We have a meeting about that in spring training.”

MLB employees and players can bet on sports other than baseball, but not with illegal bookmakers.

Shohei Ohtani interpreter salary

Mizuhara has been paid between $300,000 and $500,000 annually while working as Ohtani’s interpreter for the Angels and the Dodgers, he told ESPN.

Shohei Ohtani contract

The 29-year-old pitcher and designated hitter signed a 10-year, $700 million contract with the Dodgers in December.

The contract includes a full no-trade clause but no traditional opt-out clauses. But the contract does have a “key man” clause, which allows Ohtani to opt out of the deal if president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman or controlling owner Mark Walter leave the organization.  

Ohtani’s contract also includes massive deferrals. He is set to be paid $2 million annually, with $68 million deferred each year to be paid between 2034 and 2043.

Who is Mark Bowyer?

Bowyer, 48, is the target of a federal investigation tied to an alleged illegal gambling operation.

The Southern California bookmaker has not been charged with a crime, but he could be facing felony charges, ESPN reported. His house was raided by federal agents last year as part of the federal investigation.

An Orange County resident, Bowyer has been subject to numerous court filings, including a $1.75-million judgement for defaulting on a line of credit issued to him by a Connecticut casino. In 2011, the Aria Resort and Casino in Las Vegas filed a lawsuit against Bowyer alleging that he bounced a $250,000 check due to the facility, but it was dismissed six months later.

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