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Who is Shohei Ohtani's interpreter, Ippei Mizuhara? Everything we know

Ippei Mizuhara shot to fame when he started to work with MLB megastar Shohei Ohtani but was suddenly axed after media reports about alleged illegal gambling debts.
Shohei Ohtani's interpreter Ippei Mizuhara
Shohei Ohtani's interpreter, Ippei Mizuhara, at a news conference at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles on Dec. 14.Ashley Landis / AP file

Ippei Mizuhara made a name for himself working as an interpreter in the baseball world, but his career shot to a new level when he paired with Los Angeles Dodgers megastar Shohei Ohtani.

Now he's is at the center of a major MLB scandal: Mizuhara has been fired as Ohtani's attorneys say the athlete was the victim of a “massive theft” in a case tied to sports gambling, and the MLB has opened an investigation.

While details are still coming to light, here's everything we know about Mizuhara, 39.

Mizuhara and Ohtani

Mizuhara met Ohtani when he went to Japan to work as an interpreter for the Hokkaidō Nippon-Ham Fighters of Japan’s Nippon Professional Baseball league, reported. Ohtani had joined the team as a rookie in 2013.

When Ohtani, already on the rise as a coveted two-way player who excelled at pitching and hitting, signed with the Los Angeles Angels in 2017, he brought Mizuhara along with him.

Ippei Mizuhara and Shohei Ohtani
Interpreter Ippei Mizuhara with Shohei Ohtani, then of the Los Angeles Angels, at Oakland Coliseum in Oakland, Calif., in 2021.Brad Mangin / Sports Illustrated via Getty Images file

Ohtani went on to shatter records and garner a massive fan base — and he's already widely considered one of the greatest players in baseball history at the ripe age of 29.

Fans also cherished the special bond between Ohtani and his interpreter, often seen side by side during news conferences, at restaurant outings and playing catch during pregame warmups. Mizuhara also played catcher for Ohtani during the Home Run Derby at the 2021 MLB All-Star Game.

Mizuhara told that he’s more than an interpreter for Ohtani; he is also a training partner. And off the field, they'd hang out and play video games together, he said.

“My first priority is to help create an environment where he can concentrate on baseball,” he told the outlet. “We’re kind of like friends ... but more like partners.”

Former Angels Manager Joe Maddon told Kyodo News in 2021 that the baseball extraordinaire and his interpreter went together like “peanut butter and jelly.”

In December 2023, Ohtani made history by signing a 10-year, $700 million deal with the Los Angeles Dodgers — the most lucrative contract the sport has ever seen. Naturally, the club also hired Mizuhara to keep the duo together.

ESPN reported that Mizuhara told the outlet he had been paid between $300,000 and $500,000 annually.

Million-dollar debt and illegal gambling allegations

This week's scandal first surfaced via reports by The Los Angeles Times and ESPN.

ESPN reported that Mizuhara was fired after media questions that centered on the scandal.

A source with knowledge of Ohtani and Mizuhara’s interactions told NBC News that the allegations centered on a number of wire transfers totaling $4.5 million from Ohtani's account that were paid to a bookmaking operation out of Southern California that is under federal investigation.

The Dodgers said March 20 the team was "aware of media reports and are gathering information," and confirmed Mizuhara was terminated.

Law firm Berk Brettler LLP, attorneys for Ohtani, said in a statement: "In the course of responding to recent media inquiries, we discovered that Shohei has been the victim of a massive theft and we are turning the matter over to the authorities."

Mizuhara had given ESPN two conflicting stories about what happened regarding the debt. On Tuesday, he told the outlet — and Ohtani's personal team, according to the source — that he incurred the debts betting on the NBA, NFL, college football and international soccer — but never on baseball, which is prohibited by MLB rules. He said that Ohtani decided to pay the debt off for him, and stressed, “Shohei had zero involvement in betting.” 

According to the source, Mizuhara reportedly told Ohtani's team that the baseball star was upset and angry with him because Ohtani hates betting, but that Ohtani agreed to bail him out under the condition he never gambled again.

On March 20, Mizuhara apparently changed his story, according to the person with knowledge, after a number of inquiries from the media into the allegations against him. Following an announcement to the Dodgers to expect media reports on his gambling, Ohtani pushed his interpreter for more information, prompting Mizuhara to come clean, the source said.

Mizuhara then admitted to Ohtani's team that he had initially lied, and that he had authorized the wire transfers to the bookmaking operation over a period of time last year without Ohtani's knowledge or participation, the source said.

Authorities were informed, according to the source, who did not specify further.

The Orange County Sheriff’s Department and the Los Angeles, Anaheim and Newport Beach police departments told NBC News they do not have any record or information regarding Ohtani's filing of a police or crime report in locations tied to where he lives, plays or has a registered business.

NBC News has contacted the Dodgers, representatives for Ohtani and Mizuhara seeking further comment.

MLB investigation

On March 22, MLB said it opened an investigation following the allegations involving Mizuhara, but did not provide more information about what exactly it is investigating.

"Major League Baseball has been gathering information since we learned about the allegations involving Shohei Ohtani and Ippei Mizuhara from the news media," it said in a statement. "Earlier today, our Department of Investigations (DOI) began their formal process investigating the matter."

Mizuhara’s career, education history questioned

In addition to allegations that Mizuhara stole money from Ohtani and gambled it away, his work and education history is also under scrutiny.

According to Mizuhara’s biography in the Angels’ 2023 media guide, the interpreter graduated from the University of California, Riverside in 2007.

But the university said in a statement on March 24 that its “records do not show a student by the name of Ippei Mizuhara having attended UC Riverside.”

The Athletic reported that the university did not reply to an inquiry about whether Mizuhara possibly attended the school under a different name, or if anyone with a similar name ever attended.

And after a number of media reports linked Mizuhara to a past job with the Boston Red Sox, the team said in a statement on March 24, “Mizuhara was never employed by the Boston Red Sox in any capacity and was not an interpreter for Hideki Okajima during the pitcher’s time with the team.”

Mizuhara did not immediately respond to a request for comment March 24.