Major League Baseball
How Shohei Ohtani can grow — as a Dodger and personally — from the gambling saga
Major League Baseball

How Shohei Ohtani can grow — as a Dodger and personally — from the gambling saga

Published Apr. 18, 2024 11:18 a.m. ET

A curious occurrence happened after Shohei Ohtani appeared in front of the media on Opening Day. There was Ohtani, answering a few questions in front of a sponsored backdrop in the middle of the Dodgers clubhouse at Chavez Ravine, surrounded by a throng of reporters that congested the room. And there was Will Ireton, a Dodgers employee since 2016 and Ohtani's current interpreter, standing to the right of Ohtani. Ireton translated the slugger's responses throughout a brief interview, and then he did the unimaginable.

Ohtani's interpreter walked away.

Ireton had other responsibilities, more tasks to fulfill for the club that did not involve translating for a certain two-way superstar. The 29-year-old Ohtani, effectively, was on his own. 

These days, there is empty space in the spot Ippei Mizuhara used to be. That empty space is being filled by a cast of characters, from Ohtani's teammates, to coaches, to Ireton, to reporters, to trainers, to Dodgers manager Dave Roberts. The empty space is an opportunity for other individuals — surely, less nefarious folks who are not stealing Ohtani's money — to fill the void. The empty space is a chance for Ohtani to grow, an opportunity to branch out, and perhaps for him to be more in control of his life.


Mizuhara had too much control, we now understand, in the several years he served as Ohtani's interpreter and acted as his close friend. The federal government's criminal complaint against Mizuhara outlines the interpreter's access to Ohtani's bank account, resulting in Mizuhara allegedly stealing more than $16 million from Ohtani to finance his gambling addiction and ensuing debt. Mizuhara was described by U.S. attorney Martin Estrada as Ohtani's "de facto manager." The scandal shines a light on how naive Ohtani was with his finances, and brings into question how his life was being managed.

It's quickly appearing as though Mizuhara was also the biggest shield between Ohtani and the media. In the days after Mizuhara was replaced, reporters had easier access to the Dodgers newcomer. Rather than go through Mizuhara for a question, reporters just walked right up to Ohtani, asked him if he had a moment to talk, and the slugger, much to the media's surprise, simply said, "Sure, what do you need?" Ohtani doesn't speak English fluently, but he understands some words. Just three months ago, Ohtani accepted his second-career MVP award by reading a two-minute statement in English at the New York Baseball Writers' dinner. So, for a brief period, he conducted a few interviews in imperfect English, trying his best without Mizuhara or Ireton at his side.

But that didn't last long. 

Soon enough, reporters attempting to speak freely with Ohtani were stopped by Dodgers PR. Once again, it became an obstacle to ask Ohtani anything, and it remains unclear who exactly is limiting that access. Last week, when Ohtani was asked a question about Mizuhara, a Dodgers official stepped in and said he's only answering baseball questions. No one seems to have any idea if Ohtani is making these directives, and if this lack of access is because Ohtani himself doesn't want to talk. It's clear that in the early goings, the Dodgers are still figuring out how to handle a player of Ohtani's caliber. Roberts has noted that he prefers Ohtani to answer his own questions and be upfront with the media. So, the Dodgers still have time to create a better process, and avoid fumbling the bag completely with the high volume of interview requests for Ohtani. 

We can debate for hours who exactly is in charge of how much Ohtani engages with the media and when. It could be that it's his agent, Nez Balelo, wanting to limit Ohtani's media exposure. Or perhaps it's Ohtani himself who has an aversion to the press conference room, leading to cramped interview sessions in the clubhouse that make it hard to hear his responses. Or it might be the Dodgers trying to get him to focus solely on baseball. In the end, it's up to Ohtani to decide how private or in control he wants to be.

Will this whole ordeal cause Ohtani to be more closed off, or will it allow him to see the value in letting more people in? There's more opportunity for Ohtani to help the Dodgers if he chooses the latter.

"Actually, I would argue that it's going to help relations internally," Roberts said of Mizuhara's dismissal. "I think Shohei has been even more engaging with his teammates, and I think there's only an upside with that."

Shohei Ohtani's former interpreter allegedly stole more than $16M

It's unclear how much of his seclusion from people in baseball Ohtani attributes to Mizuhara. Roberts seemed relieved that he no longer had to go through Mizuhara, who the skipper referred to as a "buffer" obstructing direct communication with Ohtani. Roberts' use of the word buffer indicates Mizuhara shielded Ohtani from Roberts and the Dodgers rather than simply acting as the instrument that would allow discussions to flow organically. Essentially, Mizuhara was in the way.

It's all too easy to envision how Mizuhara's omnipresence beside Ohtani could've created greater isolation over the next decade between the club and its biggest star.

At least one prominent player in the major leagues is currently following the Ohtani-Mizuhara blueprint of old. This player doesn't speak English fluently, and he always has his personal interpreter following him around, acting as a shadow. In one recent incident, a reporter posed a question for the player, but rather than translating the inquiry, the interpreter answered the question himself. Reporters found it difficult to push back, because of the language barrier but also due to the security-guard presence of the interpreter standing in the way of the player. In the end, reporters walked away puzzled by the interaction, which is a concern considering an interpreter's responsibility includes making things, well, clearer. If perplexing interactions like that are also happening between the player and his teammates and coaches, it's more than a concern; it's a problem.

Particularly at the onset of a star player joining a new team, managers and coaches encourage teammates to spend time together, get to know one another on a human level and find off-field commonalities and hobbies to better relate and connect. But Ohtani's new Dodgers teammates have said they can speak the language of baseball with the Japanese phenom, and that's about it. It was the same story in Anaheim, where his former Angels teammates didn't have much insight into Ohtani's personal, non-baseball-related life.

"We don't know when he goes home how he feels," Dodgers teammate Miguel Rojas said. "But at least at the ballpark, he seems to have a really good time with us."

In these few weeks following Mizuhara's gambling revelation, Ohtani has received praise from Dodgers staffers and players for his uncanny ability to focus solely on baseball. At least between the hours spent together within the confines of a Major League Baseball stadium, the Dodgers did not see Ohtani outwardly display any signs of stress or emotion that he could be feeling toward the situation involving Mizuhara. But will they truly get to know him off the field? Will Ohtani ever share his inner thoughts and feelings with his teammates, even if he doesn't want to share those beliefs publicly?

Teammates tend to connect and form strong bonds when they understand each other well. The Dodgers certainly understand how talented Ohtani is at playing baseball, but it would help the team's long-term chemistry if players and coaches got to know him on a deeper and more personal level, too. It would benefit Ohtani if he allowed his millions of fans across the globe more insight into what makes him tick. 

As always, Ohtani doesn't have to reveal any details he doesn't want to share. But being more plugged into his environment, beyond the act of playing baseball, would be the silver lining to this unfortunate saga.

Deesha Thosar is an MLB writer for FOX Sports. She previously covered the Mets as a beat reporter for the New York Daily News. The daughter of Indian immigrants, Deesha grew up on Long Island and now lives in Queens. Follow her on Twitter at @DeeshaThosar.


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