Confusion reigns as baseball world grapples with Shohei Ohtani-Ippei Mizuhara gambling scandal

After days of speculation and questions, one thing players and agents seem to agree on is that they don't believe Ohtani is a gambling man

The question rolled in to Yahoo Sports via text from a veteran scout. A person whose livelihood revolves around information and the gathering of it. The type that is typically in the know, in the loop, in the mix — or at least, on the periphery of it.

“What do you got on Shohei today?”

That type of inquiry represents the atmosphere permeating the baseball world right now — one of curiosity and confusion. MLB’s brightest supernova, a two-way dynamo with two MVP awards and a hot-off-the-presses $700 million contract from the Los Angeles Dodgers, has found himself linked to a federal gambling scandal involving his longtime interpreter and friend, Ippei Mizuhara.

In the days before Ohtani addressed the media on Monday, the lack of meaningful information only fanned the flames of speculation and conjecture. Following his delivery of a prewritten statement via new interpreter Will Ireton, Ohtani remains the subject of intense controversy, even after portraying himself as the victim of a crime at the hands of Mizuhara. His comments Monday painted a picture of how Ohtani and his legal representatives plan to move forward — full denial, complete legal innocence, scorched earth on Ippei — but with stateside Opening Day just three sleeps away, there are still way more questions than answers about Mizuhara, Ohtani and the most substantial gambling scandal to rock Major League Baseball since Pete Rose was suspended in 1989 for betting on games.

Through it all, a perplexed baseball world can’t help but rubberneck and wonder.

After the news broke Wednesday, amid conflicting stories and a lack of concrete facts, speculation reigned supreme. The most popular conspiracy theory among baseball people, though entirely unsubstantiated and vehemently denied by Ohtani on Monday, was that the $700 million dollar man was the real gambler and he paid off Mizuhara to take the fall. Others within the industry, while skeptical that the two-time AL MVP was wagering on sports, thought Ohtani must have known about his interpreter’s debts.

But the overwhelming consensus within the industry, even before Ohtani’s attempt to set the record straight, was that Ohtani is not a gambling man.

“Ohtani does not give a f*** about other sports like that,” a former teammate told Yahoo Sports. “I’ve seen him in the clubhouse, planes, buses. This man spends his time talking to people about his swing, watching his swing, watching bullpens. This man is obsessed with baseball. He is not cooking up PrizePick parlays.”

Said a different, retired big leaguer: “Zero chance he was gambling. He’s a machine.”

In all of this, the most damning scenario, the disaster of disasters, was the notion that the game's best player was wagering on MLB games. That seems even more far-fetched now, after Ohtani so unwaveringly denied any involvement with bookmaker Mathew Bowyer’s alleged illegal operation.

It’s worth noting that gambling on non-baseball games — which, again, Ohtani has denied doing — is both commonplace and legal in 40 states. Most, if not all, MLB teams have fantasy football leagues with money involved. On fall weekends, clubhouses are awash in conversations about college football over/unders.

But baseball? That’s out of the question. Even as gambling has grown more pervasive in American sports and become normalized within MLB clubhouses, the consensus among the MLB players Yahoo Sports spoke with is that nobody — let alone a superstar with a $700 million contract — is actively gambling on baseball games.

“No one is dumb enough to bet on baseball anymore,” a different former teammate said.

However, even if Ohtani ends up being innocent in the eyes of the law, some around the industry remain skeptical about his agent, Nez Balelo. Balelo, whose relationship with Ohtani predates the superstar’s MLB debut, has been a constant presence over Ohtani’s shoulder the past seven years, ever in control of what information goes in and comes out. Indeed, Ohtani mentioned his representation’s role in this matter multiple times Monday.

Yet the CAA agent has been conspicuously absent from the public eye since the big news about his biggest client dropped last week.

“His representation has done him no favors, especially after the stories stopped adding up,” a current player agent said.

For many around baseball, Ohtani’s camp changing their story invites suspicion. And Balelo has not afforded himself a lot of faith, given his role as the agent in another one of this century’s biggest MLB scandals: Ryan Braun’s positive PED test and the subsequent fallout.

In February 2012, Braun became the first baseball player to successfully challenge a drug-related penalty when an arbitrator overturned his 50-game suspension. A year later, Yahoo Sports reported that Braun’s name was included in the Biogenesis documents. Braun had lied, misled and deceived investigators, the media and the public for more than a year, a cover-up in which Balelo allegedly participated. He was even sued by a former friend of Braun’s, Ralph Sasson, who alleged that Balelo paid him $5,000 to find information on test collector Dino Laurenzi Jr. (The case was eventually dismissed.)

As summed up by another agent: “I expect all this from the same guy that was running around with Ryan Braun’s piss.”

While Balelo is not alleged to have handled Braun’s urine sample at any time, the attitude toward the agent is clear: Balelo has obfuscated before, at the highest level, on the largest scale. In some minds, he does not deserve the benefit of the doubt.

What is clear is that somewhere along the line, those in Ohtani’s corner, Balelo included, undoubtedly led their cash cow astray. The player, too, deserves some criticism for his apparent obliviousness and lack of responsibility. But despite the public apprehension about Ohtani’s entourage, it remains unlikely, at least in the short term, that MLB levies a punishment upon the Dodgers slugger.

There is something resembling precedent here. When Jarred Cosart — a former big-league pitcher with the Phillies, Astros, Marlins and Padres — was revealed to have placed bets with a non-sanctioned bookmaker, MLB merely fined him after discovering that Cosart had never wagered on baseball. So unless it comes to light that Ohtani put down coin on the sport he has come to define — something he, Mizuhara, Bowyer’s representative and experts around the industry all deny — the face of the game will stay on the field.

All everyone else can do is wonder and wait.