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Baseball is in for a rude awakening

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Veronica Chung
25 days ago
There’s no other way to sugarcoat it: baseball is in a rough spot. When the Los Angeles Dodgers fired superstar Shohei Ohtani’s interpreter and friend, Ippei Mizuhara, over theft and illegal gambling accusations, it instantly garnered the sports industry’s attention and was soon sensationalized by mass media. It was an unthinkable development and the timing for the scandal couldn’t have been worse. 
When the gambling scandal surrounding Mizuhara and Ohtani erupted, Major League Baseball (MLB) had just hosted the first-ever two-game series between the Dodgers and the San Diego Padres in Seoul, South Korea. The series was a resounding success and was supposed to be the positive starting point for the 2024 MLB season. However, as the gambling scandal involving Mizuhara and Ohtani intensified, MLB realized they had to face a much harsher reality before turning the page over. Truthfully speaking, this isn’t going to be as simple as turning a page for MLB because of the ambiguity around the case. It also doesn’t help that the case itself involves powerful global star Ohtani himself. 
While it’s true that baseball is dealing with declining attendance and a potentially shrinking fanbase, the sport still managed to make a record $11.6 billion in 2023. Furthermore, MLB is looking for opportunities to grow internationally with more foreign-born players. The sport isn’t dying at all, but global popularity can serve as a double-edged sword as MLB navigates controversial scandals that involve things like illegal gambling. All eyes will be on the league as it attempts to untangle the scandal and the story won’t die in the dark either as the world follows the ins and outs of it. 
As it stands, no one has openly confirmed the accurate account of the current illicit gambling scandal. Yes, Mizuhara told two conflicting accounts, and Ohtani’s lawyers put out another account, but there’s no way to confirm any one of these accounts. All we know is that the two $500,000 payments to a man named Matthew Bowyer were traced back to Ohtani’s bank account according to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). Keep in mind that this came to light because the FBI was investigating Bowyer for operating an illegal gambling scheme in California (the state outlaws online gambling). With nonstop news and pressure from the outside, MLB eventually announced on March 22 that the league opened a formal investigation into the matter surrounding Mizuhara, Ohtani and the Dodgers.
Sure enough, more stories are coming out as the overall investigation around the gambling scandal evolves. As of March 23, The Athletic reported that Mizhuhara’s translator qualifications proved to be inaccurate. While Mizuhara’s biography with the Los Angeles Angels listed him as a graduate of the University of California, Riverside for years, the university stated that there are no records of the translator attending or graduating from the school. Several news reports also noted Mizuhara’s work experience with the Boston Red Sox as an interpreter in 2010, but the Red Sox have disputed this record. The stories will surely unveil more information about Mizuhara and possibly Ohtani, as scrutiny around the two people escalates.
Turning a blind eye is the single easiest option for MLB commissioner Rob Manfred. After all, Ohtani is a global celebrity that baseball benefits from both financially and reputationally and it’s in the league’s best interest to keep him along with his fame. It’s a simple enough tactic to pull off — all the league needs is a cursory formal investigation along with a two-line statement stating that nothing directly implicates Ohtani. Mizuhara will be the sacrificial lamb who will take on all the blame in such a tactic, leaving Ohtani unscathed. It’s not the worst plan given that there are already so many question marks revolving around Mizuhara’s accounts, work experience and truthfulness in general, but closing the case by solely blaming the translator without an intense investigation would be a sore mistake. 
As much as the simplest option can be tempting, it’s not this easy to solve a complex matter that involves a superstar. While Manfred represents all MLB owners, there will be little interest from other owners to protect Ohtani aside from the Dodgers. More important, this case will set a precedent for players and owners alike. If MLB chooses to gloss over this case, there’s no doubt that the league is opening itself up for murkier illegal gambling cases and more brazen rule violations from players and owners. In other words, if MLB doesn’t choose to enshrine its own rules, it opens up a door for more people to disrespect them outright. 
What’s even more uncomfortable is the fact that MLB will have to question the vetting process of signing players or hiring employees. Specifically, the question around the Dodgers right now is how the team was unable to uncover Mizuhara’s supposed gambling addiction if his debt was ballooning to millions when they were signing Ohtani in his free agency. Remember, the Dodgers infamously signed Trevor Bauer who received a lengthy suspension from MLB after sexual assault allegations and placed Julio Urías on an indefinite administrative leave in light of his assault case. The question then becomes whether the team is enforcing perfunctory background checks or if there are other factors that come into play. This is also another important assignment MLB will have to resolve if its goal is to prevent future controversies.
To add fuel to the fire, this isn’t the only questionable case baseball is facing. The stories around a corrupt process that exploits Latin American players — especially in the Dominican Republic gained steam over the years and the Major League Baseball Player Association (MLBPA) is in the midst of an internal turmoil as players express their ongoing frustration around labour negotiations, contract structures and pay. Then there are the cases about minor league player treatment and rights that have persisted for decades and the uncertain future for broadcasting revenues. 
There are far too many overdue assignments bogging down baseball, and there’s little room for error with renewed attention–albeit negative–to the sport. Needless to say, achieving perfection isn’t the expectation here. It would be ideal if baseball could solve all its fundamental issues immediately, but that’s beyond impossible. What really matters is the step in the right direction. How will the sport respond when troubles come?
What the public is looking for is a commitment to doing the right thing. Too often, the justice system and organized sports have strived to please the powerful. Choosing the right path isn’t about making the popular choice of pleasing anyone. It’s about making the hard decision that benefits everyone in the long run, no matter how harsh it may seem at the moment. 
Solving the illicit gambling scandal won’t solve all the ongoing issues in baseball. But it will open up the opportunity for the sport to gradually rectify itself one by one. If baseball is interested in keeping its fans around, let alone growing them, it won’t sweep this scandal under the rug and commit to the exhaustive investigation process. Doing the right thing was, is and will never be easy but if no one makes that hard choice, then baseball is in for a very rude awakening. So, choose wisely – there’s simply too much at stake.

ARTICLE PRESENTED BY BETANO

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