Column: Shohei Ohtani needs to grow up in the wake of Ippei Mizuhara revelations

Dodgers designated hitter Shohei Ohtani stands in the dugout as he gets set to bat during Thursday's game against the Padres.
(Lee Jin-man / Associated Press)

When most baseball players are on the field, they look the way most of us do at our jobs.

They clench their jaws. They don’t smile. They look like they’re working.

Shohei Ohtani is an exception.

He smiles. He laughs. He playfully gestures.

His talent affords him the luxury of treating the game like a game.

He’s Magic Johnson. He’s Manny Pacquiao. He’s Ronaldinho.

Many within the Dodgers organization seemed startled Shohei Ohtani’s interpreter and close friend Ippei Mizuhara was accused of theft and gambling.

March 21, 2024

His youthful spirit is a major reason behind his widespread popularity, and he should do everything in his power to preserve it.


On the field, that is.

Off the field?

Ohtani has to grow up.

Longtime interpreter Ippei Mizuhara’s firing this week should be a warning to him.

Ohtani will be 30 in July. He has to start acting like it.

For too long, Ohtani has taken responsibility for little besides his on-field performance.

When he played in Japan, much was made about how he never moved out of his team’s dorms or touched the money in his bank account. Outside of hitting or throwing a baseball, he relied on others to do things for him.

Which is how Ohtani found himself entirely dependent on Mizuhara when he moved to the United States in 2018.

Mizuhara became Ohtani’s driver. He became his shopper. He became his best friend.

Ohtani’s lawyers said this week that Mizuhara was stealing from Ohtani to satisfy his gambling debts with an alleged illegal bookmaker who is the target of a federal investigation, a story first reported by The Times. If true, that would mean Mizuhara had access to Ohtani’s money. It would also mean Ohtani was apathetic about his finances to the point where he didn’t bother to hire a qualified accountant.

The plausibility of this account is now under question because of subsequent revelations. ESPN said it was preparing a report based on an assertion by Ohtani’s spokesman that Ohtani transferred money to cover Mizuhara’s gambling debts. The same spokesman made Mizuhara available for a 90-minute interview on Tuesday, according to ESPN. The spokesman later recanted his initial claims about Ohtani paying down Mizuhara’s debts and disavowed Mizuhara’s version of the story, ESPN said.

Major League Baseball has had gambling issues, from the 1919 Black Sox scandal to Pete Rose’s ban from the game in 1989. Will Dodger Shohei Ohtani be next?

March 21, 2024

Why did the story change?

At the very least, the conflicting narratives created a public relations problem. The appearances were bad enough that Oakland A’s broadcaster Dallas Braden wondered on his X account if Ohtani was the person who was placing bets and made Mizuhara “the fall guy.”


Ohtani’s silence has contributed to the speculation.

He’s often used people around him to keep the media at arm’s length, and everyone from agent Nez Balelo to Dodgers chief marketing officer Lon Rosen has enabled him.

After a 15-11 defeat to the San Diego Padres on Thursday, a crowd of reporters waited in the Dodgers clubhouse to hear Ohtani speak on Mizuhara’s firing. Two Dodgers staffers stood guard in front of Ohtani’s locker as he dressed. Ohtani slipped on a backpack and was escorted to the dining room by Jon Weisman, the vice president of communications.

Ohtani won’t tell his story, so his story is being told by people less articulate and charming than himself.

His public image is now in the custody of people who are hopeful this story will simply vanish.

It won’t.

Team and league officials said there was nothing else to see here. They insisted Ohtani was a victim. They described the case as closed.

In a game that featured 26 runs and 33 hits, Yoshinobu Yamamoto lasts only one inning as the Dodgers fall 15-11 to the Padres on Thursday.

March 21, 2024

The crowd reacted to Ohtani on Thursday similarly to the way it did at the game before. He was cheered when he ran on the field for pregame introductions and he was cheered again when he singled to right field in the first inning. In the dugout, he was seen smiling and interacting with teammates as usual.


But this is the kind of story that could remain alive for years and years, revived every so often by the next development, the next revelation.

Ohtani has to address this situation, and he has to make sure something like this doesn’t happen again. He has to be more careful about the company he keeps. He has to take more control over how he presents himself in public.

Because scandals can affect performance. To remain a child on the field, he will have to become an adult off it.