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

As a brewing gambling scandal has ensnared Los Angeles Dodgers superstar Shohei Ohtani, questions have arisen about the reliability of the tale’s primary narrator thus far: Ohtani’s now former interpreter and best friend, Ippei Mizuhara. Those questions have only grown, with increased scrutiny on Mizuhara revealing that key points of his publicly available biography appear to be either exaggerated or inaccurate.

For years, the Los Angeles Angels media guide lists Mizuhara as having graduated from the University of California, Riverside in 2007, and that he spent spring training in 2012 working for the New York Yankees as an interpreter for Japanese pitcher Hideki Okajima. Also, multiple news reports noted that Mizuhara served as Okajima’s interpreter in 2010 with the Boston Red Sox — where he reportedly got his first major-league opportunity.

However, as first reported by NBC Los Angeles, the university disputed the notion that Mizuhara had ever attended the school, much less having graduated. “Our university records do not show a student by the name of Ippei Mizuhara having attended UC Riverside,” a school spokesman told The Athletic.

UC Riverside did not respond when asked if it was possible Mizuhara attended the school under a different name, or if anyone with a similar name ever attended. Spokespeople representing Ohtani declined to comment when asked if they had believed Mizuhara’s biography during his tenure with Ohtani.

Meanwhile, multiple news reports show that Okajima failed a physical on Feb. 17, 2012, before spring training, when he was released by the Yankees. Mizuhara could have worked with Okajima before the official start of camp, during the month or so when players on minor-league deals might arrive early to work out. But the Angels media guide has stated annually since 2019 that Mizuhara “served as an interpreter for Hideki Okajima during Yankees Spring Training in 2012.”

(The Los Angeles Angels 2019 media guide)

Earlier this week, the Red Sox released a statement insisting that Mizuhara has never worked for the team.

“We are reaching out to all of you because of reports in various outlets stating that Ippei Mizuhara worked for the Red Sox as an interpreter, which is incorrect,” read a message from the club distributed to media members on Friday. “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. Please know that we have thoroughly checked our files to ensure we are providing accurate information.”

Mizuhara and Okajima could not be reached for comment.

Mizhuara’s connection to Okajima seems to have been exaggerated over time. Multiple news reports have linked Mizuhara to Okajima over different periods. That includes a Nippon.com story from 2021 that said Mizuhara was Okajima’s interpreter during the 2010 season with the Red Sox. But in addition to the Red Sox’s denial, archives from the Boston Globe in April and May 2010 name Ryo Shinkawa as Okajima’s interpreter. The team’s media guide from 2010 lists two people as team interpreters that season, but not Mizuhara.

Searches on two different news databases did not bring up results featuring Mizuhara before 2018, when Ohtani first signed with the Angels.

In devising a media guide, the standard protocol requires trust between the media relations department and the rest of the employees, according to interviews with media relations staffers from other clubs, who requested anonymity to speak candidly. The media relations department does not have the time to vet the resume claims of each employee, the staffers said. A media relations staffer will often send a proposed biographic thumbnail for pre-approval to the employee, or ask the employee for biographical information in publishing the guide.

Mizuhara was terminated from his position with the Dodgers on Wednesday after Ohtani’s representatives alleged that he stole at least $4.5 million from the two-way superstar to cover his own gambling losses. Mizuhara initially told ESPN on Tuesday that Ohtani had agreed to pay off Mizuhara’s debts, and was present when the money was wired to Matt Bowyer, the alleged bookmaker currently under federal investigation. But soon after Mizuhara spoke with ESPN, a spokesman for Ohtani recanted the account and said that Ohtani had not been aware of Mizuhara’s gambling activity.

The Associated Press reported that the IRS has opened a criminal investigation into Mizuhara. ESPN reported that Ohtani’s representatives have initiated a criminal complaint against Mizuhara, but declined to state which agency. Major League Baseball announced on Friday that it opened a formal investigation into the situation.

Until these recent events, the 39-year-old Mizuhara had been the most prominent of a small group of interpreters working with Asian players in Major League Baseball. He was seen as Ohtani’s right-hand man, always at the side of the two-way superstar, and he was one of the most public-facing people in the sport.

The Athletic’s Mike Vorkunov, Andy McCullough and Brendan Kuty contributed to this story.

(Top photo of Ippei Mizuhara: Ronald Martinez / Getty Images)

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