Shohei Ohtani begins new MLB season balancing optimism and controversy, as his wife, dog and fired interpreter tell story of richest athlete in sports

The first $700 million in athlete in sports history has a highly unique background.

Before Shohei Ohtani switched teams and leapt from the Los Angeles Angels to the cross-town Dodgers, the ‘Japanese Babe Ruth’ proudly looked up to Hideki Matsui and Yu Darvish from afar.


Shohei Ohtani had mostly kept his life private before a gambling scandal brought a glaring spotlightCredit: Getty

Early phenom

As the Dodgers (1-1) resume their 2024 season with a Thursday night game against the St. Louis Cardinals at Dodger Stadium, Ohtani will balance shining optimism with the shadow of controversy on a day when the rest of MLB’s teams celebrate Opening Day.

Born on July 5, 1994 in Mizusawa, Oshu in Japan, Ohtani’s father, Toru, played baseball for a semipro team sponsored by a local Mitsubishi plant.

Ohtani’s mother, Kayoko, was also an athlete and spent time as a competitive badminton player.

The future Dodgers two-way threat played in the National High School Baseball Championship in 2011, and hit 101 mph on the radar gun at 20 years old.

Ohtani helped pitch Japan to the World Baseball Classic championship in 2023 and was named the MVP of that tournament, reveling in another international breakout moment.

He batted .435 with four doubles, a home run and 10 walks, while firing on the mound for a 1.86 ERA and 11 strikeouts.

The 6ft 4in and 210lb slugger/ace almost reached 100 mph on the mound in high school.

He wanted to head straight into Major League Baseball but instead began his career with the Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters in 2013.

Mamiko Tanaka follows Ohtani, her new husband, while fans trail close behind


Mamiko Tanaka follows Ohtani, her new husband, while fans trail close behindCredit: AFP
Tanaka enjoyed watching Ohtani debut with the Los Angeles Dodgers in the Seoul Series


Tanaka enjoyed watching Ohtani debut with the Los Angeles Dodgers in the Seoul SeriesCredit: Getty

Big beginnings

After receiving interest from the New York Yankees, Boston Red Sox and Texas Rangers, Ohtani signed with the Angels in December 2017.

His MLB debut was on March 29, 2018 against the Oakland Athletics.

England cricket star Jos Buttler put through his paces in baseball masterclass by former World Series winner Chase Utley

The Japanese native went 1-for-5 but ended up as the American League Rookie of the Year.

Ohtani hit .285 with 22 home runs and a .925 OPS during his first MLB season, while going 4-2 on the mound with a 3.31 ERA.

Since then, Ohtani has won won two American League MVPs, stole the spotlight in the All-Star Game, and finished fourth in AL Cy Young voting.

But he’s also been forced to deal with major injuries throughout his baseball career, which includes Tommy John surgery, and ankle and knee issues.

Ohtani won the 2023 AL MVP — hitting 44 home runs while striking out 167 batters — despite being limited to 135 games and undergoing surgery on his right elbow.

He will not pitch for the Dodgers this season, instead focusing on batting as a designated hitter and potentially playing in the field as a 6ft 4in and 210lb athlete.

After one of the most secretive free agency processes in baseball history, the 29-year-old Japan native was linked to the Toronto Blue Jays but ultimately signed with the Dodgers.

MLB commissioner Rob Manfred has honored Ohtani several times


MLB commissioner Rob Manfred has honored Ohtani several timesCredit: Getty Images – Getty
Ohtani made his baseball name with Los Angeles' other team, the Angels


Ohtani made his baseball name with Los Angeles’ other team, the AngelsCredit: Getty

Historic wealth

Ohtani structured his contract in a team-friendly manner, deferring almost all of his guaranteed $700 million until the beginning of 2034.

Once becoming a Dodger, the slugger and ace made two major revelations.

Ohtani stunned his worldwide fans and even his new Los Angeles teammates by announcing that he had gotten married.

“She is a Japanese woman,” Ohtani said through his interpreter at the time. “I don’t really feel comfortable talking about when I got married exactly, but she’s a normal Japanese woman.”

It was later revealed that Ohtani’s wife is Mamiko Tanaka, who played as a 5ft 11in forward for the Fujitsu Red Wave in the Women’s Japan Basketball League from 2019-23.

Tanaka attended the Dodgers’ 2024 season-opening Seoul Series in South Korea and was seen smiling in the stands.

“It’s going to be really great memories for both of us,” said Ohtani, who has become one of the most popular baseball players in the world.

“I appreciate all the attention,” he said. “Obviously, attention is always great, being a baseball player. … I’m really used to the attention, but I just try to focus on what’s in front of me, whatever it is.”

Social sensation

Attention also focused on Ohtani’s dog, which went viral on social media when the former Angel accepted his latest MVP award.

The dog is named Dekopin, but the Nederlandse Kooikerhondje is better known as Decoy.

“I figured it would be hard for American people to pronounce it,” Ohtani said.

Baseball fans across the globe are still trying to understand what exactly happened to Ippei Mizuhara, a longtime friend of and interpreter for Ohtani.

Mizuhara was fired by the Dodgers in the middle of the Seoul Series, shocking Ohtani supporters who have closely followed his life and career.

Questions surrounding $4.5 million in wire transfers sent from Ohtani’s bank account eventually led to his interpreter being dismissed.

Fired interpreter Ippei Mizuhara has been accused by Ohtani of lying to him and stealing millions


Fired interpreter Ippei Mizuhara has been accused by Ohtani of lying to him and stealing millionsCredit: AFP

Money problems

According to ESPN, Mizuhara built up gambling debts to a Southern California bookmaking operation that is under federal investigation.

“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,” said a statement from Berk Brettler LLP, Ohtani’s lawyers.

Ohtani went silent for several days, then addressed the mounting controversy surrounding Mizuhara.

But while Ohtani spoke for more than 10 minutes, he read from a prepared document and did not answer questions.

Ohtani said through a new Dodgers interpreter that he never bet on sports or knowingly paid any gambling debts accumulated Mizuhara.

“I am very saddened and shocked someone whom I trusted has done this,” Ohtani said.

“Ippei has been stealing money from my account and has been telling lies. I never bet on sports or have willfully sent money to the bookmaker.”

The Dodgers return to action March 28 against the St. Louis Cardinals for Ohtani’s home debut with his new team.

The Japanese Babe Ruth is on a clear Hall of Fame path entering the 2024 season.

Ohtani has two MVPs, three All-Star selections, two Silver Sluggers, 171 career home runs, a 3.01 ERA and 608 pitching strikeouts.

But the Dodgers’ $700 million man will begin his new era shadowed by unexpected controversy and in the middle of an investigation that could spiral outward in multiple directions.

“I never bet on baseball or any other sports or never have asked somebody to do it on my behalf, and I have never gone through a bookmaker to bet on sports and was never asked to assist betting payment for anyone else,” Ohtani said.

Baseball fans across the globe are hoping that Ohtani’s words are 100 percent accurate.


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