Athletes Lawyer

Keeping You In The Game

Ohtani still a sure thing?

On Behalf of | Mar 29, 2024 | Current Events |

Illegal gambling in baseball goes back at least as far as the Black Sox scandal of 1919 when the eight players conspired to lose the World Series. Seventy years later, MLB excommunicated Pete Rose from baseball for betting on games while working as a manager. These are two famous examples, but there are many others in baseball and other sports.

No betting scandal in recent history is more significant than Ippei Mizuhara losing $4.5 million to illegal bookie Matthew Bowyer. Of course, it’s Mizuhara’s former job as Shohei Ohtani’s interpreter that makes this a sports scandal. Since Bowyer was in the sights of federal investigators, there is documented proof that Mizuhara lost money on international soccer, NBA, NFL and college football games. There is no evidence that he bet on baseball.

The story is a moving target

The debt was paid off over several months in mid-six figure increments wired to a Bowyer associate, but the truth seems to be a moving target. Mizuhara first claimed that he asked Ohtani for the money, which the baseball player gave him, but then the story changed to Ohtani having no knowledge of the debts and money transfers. Ohtani then accused his interpreter, best friend, bodyman, and posse of theft.

If this were a tragedy, Mizuhara would be the hero who selflessly gave himself up to protect Ohtani’s good name and reputation as the greatest two-way baseball player since Babe Ruth. The truth is likely not this noble.

All indications point towards Ohtani focusing on being the greatest baseball player ever, leaving him just enough time to announce he’d secretly married in the off-season. According to the MLB rules, even if Ohtani was behind the clandestine betting, the only rules he broke were using an illegal bookie and breaking California law – the state is one of a dozen that still does not allow sports betting. MLB rules generally allow betting on other sports.

Storm in a teapot?

We’ve talked about the increasingly cozy relationship between sports betting and the leagues. Critics worry about the rise of the sports betting industry ($40.9 billion in 2023 in gross revenue) eroding the integrity of sports. Still, a steady stream of college and pro athletes have been caught, with some going to jail but most paying fines or getting suspended. This tells us that the system of checks and balances works.

For example, MLB fined Marlins pitcher Jarred Cosart an undisclosed amount in 2015 for placing wagers with a bookmaker not licensed in the U.S. MLB’s investigation did not find that Cosart bet on baseball.

In 2022, former Dodger All-Star Yasiel Puig admitted to federal authorities that he accumulated more than $280,000 in losses while wagering on tennis, football and basketball games. Puig admitted to lying to federal investigators but is now appealing his case.

Innocent until proven guilty

Of course, having the global face of baseball associated with a gambling scandal is a nightmare for MLB. Nevertheless, the court of law states that everyone is innocent until proven guilty. Ohtani may be guilty of having a sketchy friend or an employee with a gambling problem. Still, unless new concrete evidence arises, we can go back to regarding Ohtani as simply one of the best ever.