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The interpreter for Dodgers' Shohei Ohtani is fired amid gambling and theft scandal

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

Baseball fans still have a lot of questions surrounding a major scandal that came to light this week. The name of the sport's biggest star, Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher and slugger Shohei Ohtani, has come up in an investigation into an alleged illegal gambling ring. It centers around his longtime interpreter and close friend Ippei Mizuhara. Now, the Dodgers fired Mizuhara after he was accused by Ohtani's attorneys of stealing millions of dollars from the baseball player, allegedly to place bets with a bookie who is under federal investigation. This all came as the interpreter accompanied the Dodgers to South Korea for the team's season opener. Here with more details is LA Times columnist Gustavo Arellano. He was part of the team that broke this story. Welcome.

GUSTAVO ARELLANO: Gracias for having me.

CHANG: So tell us why you and the rest of the teams even started looking into Ohtani's interpreter in the first place.

ARELLANO: There has been investigations into illegal gambling rings in Southern California now for years. And so the Los Angeles Times has been on top of this. And in the course of the investigation into one of these cases, our sources told us that the name of Shohei Ohtani had surfaced. So, of course, with any ballplayer, you're going to be interested. But this is the name of the biggest ballplayer in the world right now, a generational talent. So the moment we found that out, we started asking questions and hit a lot of roadblocks but eventually were able to get the story that we were able to publish.

CHANG: Yeah. And what did you find out exactly?

ARELLANO: We found out that Ohtani's name had been part of this investigation into Matt Boyer, who allegedly runs a illegal gambling operation out of Orange County, Calif. We had found out through a source that Boyer was bragging about an alleged connection that he had with Ohtani, and so we started asking questions to Major League Baseball, to the Dodgers, to the U.S. attorney's office, who was investigating Matt Boyer, who, by the way, has not been charged with anything. No one was really talking. Then we go to Ohtani's camp, and they say, this is the first time we've heard about this. Let us look into this. Then a source tells us that Ippei Mizuhara, Shohei's longtime interpreter, was less than forthcoming with answers. Then after that, we see this press release saying that, through Shohei Ohtani's attorneys - that he had been the victim of - this is their words, not ours - massive theft and they were going to ask the authorities to investigate. Shortly after that, the Dodgers say, Ippei Mizuhara is no longer employed by us.

CHANG: And I understand that Mizuhara's explanation of what he says happened - it changed a couple of times just since...

ARELLANO: Yes.

CHANG: ...This scandal surfaced a couple days ago, right?

ARELLANO: Yes. What was communicated to us was that he was less than forthcoming with whatever they were asking him. But then ESPN did an interview with him where he alleged that Ohtani knew all about his gambling problems and, in fact, had himself wired two $500,000 bank transfers to Boyer's operation. Then the story changes, and Mizuhara says, oh, wait. What I told you folks at ESPN - I'm taking that back. Actually, Ohtani had no idea whatsoever about my gambling issues, which, of course, led everyone to wonder, why did he tell one story, then another?

CHANG: Right.

ARELLANO: And what are we to believe?

CHANG: Wow. And just to be clear, as far as we know, Mizuhara hasn't been charged with any crime, and we are still at the early stages of this story. And so far, MLB officials don't seem to be raising any questions about the possibility of wrongdoing by Shohei Ohtani. Yet, I mean, the baseball world seems to be buzzing with all kinds of speculation that Ohtani could have been involved, maybe even gambling himself. So do we have any reason to believe that?

ARELLANO: There is no allegations of any wrongdoing by Ohtani at all - far from it. As we said earlier, his attorneys say he is the victim of a massive theft by Mizuhara. But there is a lot of chatter because this is Major League Baseball and gambling. This is a sport which sadly has seen major gambling scandals. In 1919, you had a World Series thrown for mobsters. Pete Rose, one of the all-time leader in hits, is banned for life from baseball because he bet on sports. So when you have any sort of connection between gambling, especially alleged illegal gambling, and the biggest name in the world in professional baseball, yeah, people are going to be talking.

CHANG: I mean, yeah, especially, as you say, Ohtani - he's this huge international star because he's this phenomenal pitcher and he's such a power hitter. He has become, like, the face of the entire league. So given his stature in the game, how monumental is this scandal not just to the Dodgers but to the whole sport? - because it's - we're talking about Shohei Ohtani.

ARELLANO: If we are to believe the facts that are being told to us right now, this represents a massive betrayal of the biggest player in baseball, in North American sports, arguably, like his longtime translator - not just a betrayal, but an alleged crime. That's at the very least. Anything else that comes up in subsequent investigations - it has to weigh Ohtani. Even though he is Superman on the field, he is also human. So - and we are just two games into the baseball season this year. At a time where the Dodgers, one of the marquee franchises in the sport, fully expects to win a World Series with Ohtani, it remains to be seen how Ohtani's performance on the field will be affected, if at all.

CHANG: That was LA Times columnist Gustavo Arellano. Thank you so much for being with us.

ARELLANO: Gracias. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Ailsa Chang is an award-winning journalist who hosts All Things Considered along with Ari Shapiro, Audie Cornish, and Mary Louise Kelly. She landed in public radio after practicing law for a few years.
Erika Ryan
Erika Ryan is a producer for All Things Considered. She joined NPR after spending 4 years at CNN, where she worked for various shows and CNN.com in Atlanta and Washington, D.C. Ryan began her career in journalism as a print reporter covering arts and culture. She's a graduate of the University of South Carolina, and currently lives in Washington, D.C., with her dog, Millie.
Kathryn Fox