Plaschke: Shohei Ohtani's legend continues as a baseball star, not a gambler

LOS ANGELES, CA - MARCH 31, 2024: Los Angeles Dodgers designated hitter Shohei Ohtani.

Two weeks after sinking into a murky abyss, the legend of Shohei Ohtani has suddenly come up for air, surfacing powerfully through a thick layer of felonious lies and criminal deceit.

It smiles at those who doubted its integrity. It shakes its head at those who questioned its motives.

The legend lives.

I didn’t quite believe Ohtani recently when he said he knew nothing about an alleged $4.5 million in wire transfers to an illegal bookie.

With federal prosecutors announcing Thursday that they have charged translator Ippei Mizuhara with stealing more than $16 million from the Dodgers superstar to pay Mizuhara’s gambling debts, I now believe.

Read more: What's next for Shohei Ohtani and MLB after charges against Ippei Mizuhara?

(Sixteen million? Are you kidding me?)

I didn’t quite believe Ohtani when he recently threw Mizuhara under the bus by saying, “Ippei has been stealing money from my account and has told lies.”

With Thursday’s criminal complaint containing allegations of phone conversations in which Mizuhara actually impersonates Ohtani to gain access to the money, I believe.

(He actually faked Ohtani’s voice? Are you serious?)

After hearing the charges announced in a downtown Los Angeles news conference by E. Martin Estrada, the U.S. attorney for the Central District of California, I summoned a column I wrote in this space two weeks ago.

It was a cynical look at a modern-day Babe Ruth whose stainless career was staring down controversy for the first time.

It was filled with lines such as, “It still doesn’t feel right. It still doesn’t make sense.”

It proclaimed that, “Something in all this gambling garbage still stinks.”

Today that column is as worthless as a Mizuhara parlay.

That smell is gone. That garbage has been pushed to the curb. As Mizuhara was being condemned Thursday, Ohtani was being vindicated, and many of the questions were being answered.

Starting with the biggest one, addressed quickly and succinctly by Estrada.

“Mr. Ohtani is considered a victim in this case,” Estrada said.

Not an illegal gambler who arranged for his helpless interpreter to take the fall. Not a frightened superstar who would publicly lie about a gambling addiction to save his skin.

A victim. Amid all the whispers and innuendo that Ohtani was the perpetrator, he has finally been given an official title that cleanses the optics and polishes the image.

A victim.

Read more: Why feds say Shohei Ohtani is a 'victim': Interpreter allegedly paid gambling debts pretending to be Dodger

No, Ohtani did not gamble on baseball. No, he did not gamble on sports. No, he did not gamble with this bookie, period.

No, Ohtani didn’t knowingly fund Mizuhara’s addiction. No, he didn’t even know how much money was disappearing from his account.

Yes, apparently, in methodically devoting most of his waking hours to being the best baseball player ever, Ohtani doesn’t pay much attention to the rest of his life.

Yes, this is a problem.

The Times’ Dylan Hernández concluded as much recently in one of his many insightful columns on the Japanese icon.

“Ohtani has to grow up,” he wrote, and, goodness, this criminal complaint shows he was right.

Dodgers designated hitter Shohei Ohtani runs to first base after hitting a double against the St. Louis Cardinals.
Dodgers designated hitter Shohei Ohtani runs to first base after hitting a double against the St. Louis Cardinals at Dodger Stadium on March 28. (Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

This massive alleged theft occurred while Ohtani stood idly by, a naive rich guy ignoring his money, a veritable child.

One of the most stunning allegations Thursday was that while Ohtani twiddled his batting gloves, Mizuhara refused to allow anyone else on his business team to view Ohtani’s $16-million spigot.

“Mr. Mizuhara had accessed that bank account, and he refused to give access to Mr Ohtani’s other professional advisors, including his agent, his accountant and his financial advisor and he told them Mr. Ohtani wanted to keep that account private,” alleged Estrada.

Ohtani’s business team allowed this? Wow. Seriously. This proves it. Ohtani has the most weak-kneed and worthless advisors in the history of advisors.

Not to mention, the complaint notes that nobody on his CAA team speaks Japanese, and how is that even possible? No wonder Mizuhara held so much sway over the superstar. Nobody else charged with running his life even spoke his language.

Ohtani needs to clean house now, start by firing pandering agent Nez Balelo and then whack most of his crisis publicists.

Remember, when this whole controversy surfaced, Mizuhara, with approval from Ohtani’s team, gave ESPN an interview in which he said Ohtani knew about the missing money and had approved using it to settle Mizuhara’s debts.

Turns out, that was all a lie. Yet somebody on Ohtani’s team endorsed it? That’s not just shameful, it should be criminal.

The saddest part of the complaint was the recounting of text messages between Mizuhara and the illegal bookmakers, with Mizuhara falling deeper into their debt while asking for increasing amounts of credit. While there are references to sports betting, there is no proof that Mizuhara bet on baseball.

Read more: What to know about the Shohei Ohtani interpreter gambling scandal

One day last summer Mizuhara allegedly texted, “I got my ass kicked again lol … any chance I can get one last bump? This will be my last one for a while if I lose it.”

Yet a day later he was begging again.

“I’m the worst lol ... can’t catch a break. ... Can I get one last bump? I swear this is gonna be my last until I get the balance down significantly ... I promise this will be the last bump for a while.”

Several months later, the unidentified bookie threatens Mizuhara that he will confront Ohtani if Mizuhara doesn’t pay.

“Hey Ippie [sic.] it’s 2 o’clock on Friday. I don’t know why you’re not returning my calls. I’m here in Newport Beach and I see [Ohtani] walking his dog. I’m just gonna go up and talk to him and ask how I can get in touch with you since you’re not responding? Please call me back.”

In the final text contained in the complaint, sent to a bookmaker three weeks ago, Mizuhara referred to Ohtani and allegedly admitted his crime.

“Technically I did steal from him. It’s all over for me.”

Meanwhile, out of a courtroom and into Chavez Ravine for this weekend’s series against the Padres comes a man impervious to the madness.

With the weight of the whirl on his shoulders, in 15 games Shohei Ohtani is batting .333 with three home runs, 12 runs scored and an OPS 1.012.

It’s back, stronger than ever, scarier than ever, more bulletproof than ever.

The legend lives.

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This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.