Ohtani scandal looms over baseball ahead of opening day

LOS ANGELES: Shohei Ohtani and the Los Angeles Dodgers take centre stage on Thursday (Mar 28) as Major League Baseball’s new season gets underway on US soil against the backdrop of a gambling scandal that has engulfed its brightest star.

When the Dodgers won the race to sign Japanese superstar Ohtani last December on a lavish US$700 million deal — the richest contract in the history of North American sport — the move was widely hailed as a blockbuster coup.

A two-time American League Most Valuable Player, Ohtani’s once-in-a-generation combination of elite pitching and hitting has seen him compared to the legendary Babe Ruth since his arrival in the major leagues in 2018.

The skyrocketing euphoria amongst Dodgers fans was given another jolt when the team acquired pitchers Tyler Glasnow and Ohtani’s highly rated Japan team-mate Yoshinobu Yamamoto, further proof that the franchise is determined to make a serious run at the World Series.

But fast-forward three months and some of the breathless giddiness that greeted the Dodgers’ December shopping spree has dissipated as they prepare to host the St. Louis Cardinals in Thursday’s home opener.

The Dodgers launched their regular season with two games in Seoul against San Diego, splitting the series 1-1 last week.

The results however were a footnote to the scandal that erupted around Ohtani after his long-time friend and interpreter Ippei Mizuhara was accused of swindling him out of millions of dollars to pay off gambling debts.

Ohtani’s camp issued a statement saying the superstar had been the victim of a “massive theft” by Mizuhara, who was promptly fired by the Dodgers last week.

Yet details of the scandal remained murky, clouded by contradictory statements given by Mizuhara, who initially told ESPN that Ohtani himself had signed off on payments to an illegal bookmaker totalling US$4.5 million.

Twenty-four hours later, Mizuhara changed his story, insisting that Ohtani had no knowledge of his gambling debts and did not transfer the money from his account.

Major League Baseball announced a formal investigation on Friday as pundits across US media wondered out loud whether Mizuhara had in fact been placing bets on Ohtani’s behalf – something that could lead to a career-ending ban if the bets involved Ohtani’s own team.

In his first public comments on the controversy on Monday, Ohtani denied ever betting on sport, accusing Mizuhara of transferring money without his knowledge and describing himself as “beyond shocked” at the betrayal of trust.

“I never bet on baseball or any other sports and I never have asked somebody to do that on my behalf and I have never went through a bookmaker to bet on sports,” Ohtani said.

“All of this has been a complete lie …Until a couple of days ago I didn’t know this was happening … Ippei has stolen money from my account and told lies.”

SOURCE: CNA (Channelnewsasia.com) RSS Latest News   (go to source)
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