Reusse: Who's lying in this Ohtani debacle?

Try as the Grand Old Game might have during the years of dawdling pace and constant pitching changes, Major League Baseball never succeeded in losing its most-favored status with me among sports activities.

That's what led to arising at 5 a.m. on Wednesday to watch the first official game of the regular season — the L.A. Dodgers vs. their oft-failed National League cousins down the 405 freeway, the San Diego Padres — from Seoul, South Korea.

Commissioner Rob Manfred, an obvious proponent of these official games in faraway lands, was an in-person guest during the ESPN telecast.

Every Manfred interview I've heard for months has included him accepting praise for the pitch clock and other changes made in 2023 that greatly increased MLB's watchability and attendance.

The fact that his ongoing expansion of the playoffs produced a Texas-Arizona World Series that had slightly better ratings than the American Cornhole League playoffs on ESPN2 generally is avoided in these interviews.

On Wednesday, as Karl Ravech and Eduardo Perez tossed a few bouquets, Manfred came off as much more subdued than normal in accepting that praise.

Festive day, the Dodgers in their most glamorous state since taking over the L.A. sports scene in 1958, and Manfred wasn't really banging the drums for the new season.

We now know the reason for this: The commissioner knew what was coming.

The Los Angeles Times and ESPN were in the process of revealing Shohei Ohtani as the source for $4.5 million needed to pay off an Orange County bookmaker, Matthew Boyer, who happened to be under federal investigation.

There are legends of journalism professors instructing their students to keep this silent thought when interviewing any subject: "Why is this person lying to me?"

Never has that been more necessary than with the reporters at the forefront of breaking the Ohtani story. They have encountered wildly changing and nonsensical explanations. And with Ohtani making it more difficult and staying in character with no comment. This is a 29-year-old who somehow has managed to make himself a mysterious character even as he spent six seasons with the Los Angeles Angels as modern MLB's first two-way star.

The Dodgers signed him as a free agent for an absurd $700 million for 10 years — much of it deferred so he can avoid California taxes on a large hunk when his career is finished.

"The face of baseball," this superb talent has been labeled with this contract, and yet massive attention did not prevent Ohtani from surprising his world of watchers by announcing on Feb. 29 that he was married.

It took a while after that to discover the bride was Mamiko Tanaka, a former basketball player for the Fujitsu Red Wave in Japan.

ESPN showed Mrs. Ohtani sitting between a couple of companions numerous times during the season opener. And this was the mystery for me as a viewer: If Tanaka is married to the face of baseball, why doesn't she have better seats? She kept pointing toward the field as if asking, "Is that him?"

The Dodgers won that opener 5-2. And before Game 2, the reports were out on the gambling scandal — a smear for Manfred's new season, even if we choose to accept the second version offered to ESPN reporter Tisha Thompson.

The cog in all this is Ippei Mizuhara, Ohtani's interpreter, but much more than that: Shohei's right-hand man, described by some of Ohtani's teammates as beyond a "best friend."

Mizuhara was the one making the bets with Bowyer. Quite a few bets were on international soccer, which means that Ippei would have to know less about La Liga and Bundesliga than I do to lose such a bundle.

The original tale, as told to Thompson, was that Mizuhara confessed his gambling losses to Ohtani, and Shohei agreed to pay off the $4.5 million, with a warning to stop his sports gambling.

This made no sense. What bookie is going to let someone get millions in the tank without collecting, even if the loser happens to know Ohtani?

That version wasn't going to look good to the feds or the MLB — "Ohtani pays friend's millions in losses to illegal bookmaker" — so the next day, the tale changed after Shohei's lawyers and consultants got involved. The league opened a formal investigation on Friday.

Ohtani had been the victim of "massive theft," Mizuhara was fired by the Dodgers, and Mizuhara was now claiming that Shohei knew nothing.

One version is a lie, and the other might be. To me, the only winners in this were all of those wiseacres who went on X (Twitter) and responded to the doublespeak by paraphrasing the immortal advice once offered by NFL Hall of Famer Cris Carter:

"If y'all got a crew, you got to have a fall guy in the crew."