April 15, 2024

Joe Maddon’s front-row view of Ohtani’s relationship with interpreter: They were ‘inseparable’

Shohei Ohtani and his longtime interpreter, Ippei Mizuhara, are under scrutiny after Mizuhara’s gambling activity led to his firing by the Los Angeles Dodgers and sparked multiple investigations. And Joe Maddon has questions. Just like all of us.

From 2020 until June 2022, when he was fired by the Los Angeles Angels, Maddon was Ohtani’s manager. He had a front-row seat to witness the close bond between the sport’s most transcendent star and his closest companion.

“When I read all this, heard all this, I just did not want to believe any of it,” Maddon told me and Doug Glanville on the latest edition of our Starkville podcast. “The fact that Ippei would be disloyal to Shohei was, like, really a thought that I could not even fathom and never even imagined. … And I was upset. I was viscerally upset about the whole thing.”

Because his exchanges with Ohtani all funneled through Mizuhara, Maddon said he and his star player’s interpreter needed to “converse daily.” So they were in constant touch.

Maddon said Mizuhara “was my liaison, my connection to Shohei. So I had a great relationship with the guy.”

Maddon described Ohtani and Mizuhara as “best friends” and “inseparable” — and said that all of Ohtani’s affairs seemed to flow through the interpreter and his agent, Nez Balelo of CAA Sports. So on Starkville, which is now part of The Athletic’s “Windup” podcast, Maddon was asked if he thought it was conceivable that somebody like Mizuhara could have had access to Ohtani’s bank account to pay his bills.

“I absolutely can see that as being part of it,” Maddon replied. “The part that’s somewhat of a stretch is … that, (with) those kinds of transactions, the agency would not be aware of that.”

By “those kinds of transactions,” Maddon was referring to the $4.5 million in payments that were allegedly wired from Ohtani’s account to Mathew Bowyer, an alleged bookmaker under federal investigation.

So it was “easily” conceivable to him, Maddon said, “that Shohei would rely on Ippei to handle, like, daily bill paying. … So that, to me, is not a reach by any means. The part that I don’t quite understand is the fact that, especially when you talk about those ($4.5 million) numbers, if they are accurate, that the agency would not have known about that.”

Balelo and CAA Sports declined comment through a spokesperson. A source briefed on Ohtani’s financial affairs told The Athletic that CAA Sports does not manage Ohtani’s finances. Although Balelo would likely have general knowledge of Ohtani’s finances, the player’s accounts are managed by a separate accounting firm, according to the source.

Asked if Ohtani appeared to have other people around him to handle day-to-day challenges that arose off the field during their time with the Angels, Maddon replied:

“It was always Ippei. I never saw (anyone else), other than Nez, his agent.”

“So listen, it was a well-oiled machine. I had never thought twice about it. It seemed to be working extremely well. So who would have thought gambling would become an issue in this relationship? Last thing you would expect.”

With all those unanswered questions, then, we asked Maddon what the biggest question was that he would like to ask Ohtani.

“Well, there’s only one question to ask,” Maddon replied. “‘Did you know anything about this? Did you know about (Mizuhara’s) betting habits? And if you did, why didn’t you try to stop it?’” 

Shohei Ohtani and Ippei Mizuhara were “inseparable” during their time with the Angels, Joe Maddon said. (Darren Yamashita / USA Today)

Maddon acknowledged that there is “nothing (concerning) about gambling on basketball or whatever. The whole world’s doing it.” His only concern, he said, was whether there was any betting on baseball involved. (Neither Mizuhara nor Ohtani have so far been accused of betting on baseball.) But here is what he would like to ask Ohtani:

“So just how much did you really know? Did you know about the debt (that Mizuhara ran up)? And in any way did you help pay for it?”

“And then, of course, you just (ask) straight up: ‘Did you ever bet, yourself, on anything?’ … And that’s it. I mean, I don’t know that anything else is pertinent until those questions are answered.”

Ohtani, of course, addressed similar questions in his public meeting with the media last week, although he did so via a statement — and without answering any additional questions.

“I never bet on baseball or any other sports or never have asked somebody to do that on my behalf,” Ohtani said on March 25. “And I have never went through a bookmaker to bet on sports.”

In terms of how much he knew about Mizuhara’s gambling, Ohtani said, “Up until a couple of days ago, I didn’t know that this was happening.”

During his visit to Starkville, Maddon talked about much more than the Ohtani situation:

• He discussed the more extensive “vetting” he expects the sport to do in the hiring of future interpreters.

• He spoke at length about Mike Trout and the “conversation” the Angels need to have with him about potentially trading him.

• Maddon also spoke about his own future, why he believes teams think he is “not as controllable” as other managers and about a baseball job besides managing that he would be seriously interested in.

You can listen to the whole show for free wherever you get your podcasts.



Inside the ‘very predatory’ world of illegal betting that lured Shohei Ohtani’s interpreter



What is Shohei Ohtani’s legal exposure as former interpreter faces gambling probe?



Ohtani’s former interpreter, Ippei Mizuhara, had inaccuracies in public biography

(Top photo of Joe Maddon and Shohei Ohtani in 2021: Tim Warner / Getty Images)