Baseball, Columnists, Sports

On-Deck Circle: MLB’s dilemma and the shadow of sports gambling

Last week, the Los Angeles Dodgers and San Diego Padres kicked off the 2024 MLB season with the annual Seoul Series, a two-game series that the two clubs eventually split. 

Chloe Patel | Senior Graphic Artist

It should have been a time to celebrate a new season and the continued globalization of the game as the league continues to hold games outside of the United States. Instead, the series was overtaken by the news of the firing of Dodgers star Shohei Ohtani’s interpreter, Ippei Mizuhara. 

Following the first game in Seoul, the Los Angeles Times reported that Ohtani’s attorney had said Ohtani was the victim of a “massive theft.” The alleged thief – Mizuhara. 

Ohtani’s lawyers claimed that Mizuhara wired at least $4.5 million to an alleged illegal bookmaker in California, Mathew Bowyer. Bowyer is currently under investigation because sports gambling is illegal in California. 

However, the situation is much more complicated than it seems. 

According to Mike Florio of NBC Sports, there are three possibilities for what actually happened between Ohtani, Mizuhara and Bowyer:

  1. Instead of telling Mizuhara that he needed to stop betting, Ohtani said to him that he would start (or continue) to fund his gambling.
  2. Mizuhara had access to Ohtani’s bank account and stole the money. 
  3. Ohtani made the bets, and Mizuhara is taking the fall for him. 

A few significant questions are left to be answered before a punishment is dished out, if any. 

First, nothing is more important than whether bets were placed on baseball. If they were, and Ohtani placed the bets, he could face severe punishment. Similar to Pete Rose, a player who was caught betting on games he played in, Ohtani could be banned from baseball for life. But there are other facets to the rules, like what games he bet on and who he bet with. 

Secondly, the MLB is dealing with the face of the league, which immediately brings the question of preferential treatment into the conversation. It is in the league’s best interest not to treat Ohtani like the best player of this generation that he is but instead treat him as an average, everyday player. 

The league has already shifted the rules enough in his favor that cracking down on him lightly in this ordeal will immediately tarnish their reputation. In 2015, the league fined Marlins pitcher Jarred Cosart for placing bets with an illegal bookmaker. If this was similar to what Ohtani did, the reaction from the league should be the same — a slap on the wrist and move on. 

However, there is no evidence that Ohtani compromised the integrity of the game by betting on his own games, let alone placing any bets himself on anything. 

Still, this situation provokes a more extensive discussion in sports dealing with the connection between sports leagues and gambling. 

Last semester, I wrote about the rise of sports gambling among college students. The news of Ohtani’s interpreter’s alleged actions is the latest of many recent incidents of professional athletes being caught illegally gambling. 

Last June, the NFL suspended four of its players for illegal gambling. In November, Maverick Carter, NBA star LeBron James’ manager, admitted using an illegal bookmaker. 

March is Problem Gambling Awareness Month, and this news of Ohtani comes at a time when sports betting is at its peak. With March Madness in the NCAA well underway, billions of dollars will be bet over the next two weeks. With MLB Opening Day coming up this week, even more money is set to be gambled. 

Back to Ohtani, the truth is far from coming out. ESPN reported that MLB is arranging interviews with relevant sources, but both Ohtani and Mizuhara could decline. The Dodgers’ manager, team president and Ohtani all declined to comment on the matter or said there was nothing to be found in the investigation. 

For now, though, it will be up to Ohtani’s representatives to prove that Mizuhara had access to Ohtani’s account and stole the money. 

There is not enough information for anyone, including me, to decide what happened. While there may be nothing to this story, and Ohtani won’t face any repercussions, it could at least be a wake-up call to the widespread illegal betting in the professional sports world.

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