A scandal of their own making

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“Hear the cheering up above
Down below it’s push and shove (whoa)
Yeah, push and shove (Hey, hey, hey, hey)”
“Coming For You” — The Offspring

American punk rock band The Offspring celebrates its 40th year of recording music in 2024. The band has been through numerous lineup changes but found widespread success in 1994 with the release of their album “Smash,” which featured “Come Out and Play,” a track that would find its way to the top of Billboard rock charts for multiple weeks.

The group, along with bands such as Green Day and Blink 182, brought about a revival of punk rock on rock charts that came upon the heels of the grunge rock movement of the early 1990s.

“Coming For You” was part of a moment when The Offspring was in a financial “battle” with its previous record company over language in their original record deal and who owned the rights to music moving forward from that deal.

The group toured with new singles, but without the ability to play some of its “hit” music on the tour until the legalities were cleared in 2016.

The spirit of the band’s turmoil at the time is definitely evident in the tempo of the song and absolutely present in the disturbing its music video, which features a whole host of clowns gathering for a Fight Club sort of brawling league.

The lyrics highlight the separation between those who sit in the stands and observe, versus the conflict and struggle of those who are actually doing the entertaining.

In the end of the song, those who watch and try to direct the entertainers find themselves now part of the entertainment, as they’re forced to labor alongside the laborers who once entertained them.

It’s an interesting perspective that reminds me strongly of what is currently going on in the world of Major League Baseball.

Thursday was Opening Day for Major League Baseball (MLB) - though my favorite squad had its opening game delayed to Friday. This should be the time of year when optimism is at its highest among baseball fans, ready for a new year when anything is possible.

A podcast that I participated in on Wednesday evening for MLB Opening Day Eve had everyone select a World Series champion.

While there were plenty who selected teams that would be considered “favorites” like the Atlanta Braves, Los Angeles Dodgers, and Houston Astros - the winners of three of the past four World Series - others went off the board, projecting the Kansas City Royals (106 losses in 2023) and the San Diego Padres (18 games out of first place at the end of the 2023 season) as potential contenders.

As I said, this should be a time of hope and optimism surrounding the game.

Except it isn’t.

The game’s biggest star, Shohei Ohtani, the player who won the American League Most Valuable Player (MVP) award last year, the guy who is earning more just in endorsement contracts between his native Japan and the U.S. than any player in the game is earning with salary and endorsements combined, and the new owner of the largest contract in baseball history - $700 million over 10 years (though with deferrals, the present-day value is only around $425-$450 million) - that superstar, he’s currently mired in a significant controversy, and MLB only has itself to blame.

According to best-investigated sources at the time of this writing, Shohei (and the team he was on, so beginning this year, the Dodgers) employed a translator, Ippei Mizuhara, who traveled with him during the season and offseason to various events where translation may be needed. Shohei developed a friendship with Mizuhara, dating back to when Shohei was playing in the Japanese professional baseball league.

Unfortunately, according to the reports, Shohei was not stringent about either managing his money or who had access to it.

His mother handled his money for a long time, but when he moved to the United States, she handed things off to a professional accountant. His attentiveness to the financial side of things was never high as he had been taught by his parents to live on very little, so the financial gains he made went into investments and into bank accounts, seldom into luxurious living.

So that’s where he was able to be duped by Mizuhara.

While working as close with Ohtani as any player/translator relationship could be, it turns out Mizuhara was also heavily involved in high-stakes gambling, often citing his relationship with the superstar athlete to convince bookies to grant him huge gambling credit lines. He, like most gamblers, was beaten by the house frequently, to the tune of $4.5 million in gambling debts.

The part in question within the investigation is how much Ohtani knew about the money that would be transferred from his personal accounts to then pay off the gambling debts of Mizuhara.

That is currently under investigation by the FBI and other three-letter agencies, but the evidence thus far has not implicated Ohtani, and he’s still able to play baseball.

MLB put itself into this mess, no matter how the league may want to spin it.

Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis made one of the first acts when he was hired as MLB’s first full-time commissioner in 1921 to permanently ban eight members of the 1919 Chicago White Sox team, due to a gambling conspiracy around the 1919 World Series. Some of the players who were banished from the game only happened to be present at a meeting about the proposed fix, never actually accepting money or changing play on the field to affect the outcomes of games.

Six decades (and multiple other lifelong banishments due to gambling that aren’t as well-known), the coup d’etat of gambling punishment came down from MLB when all-time hits leader and then-Cincinnati Reds manager Pete Rose was banned for life from baseball in 1989 after an investigation determined that he had bet more than 50 times on MLB games while an active member of the team in a managerial position.

Rose accepted the lifetime banishment, though he has argued his case ever since - one that MLB has passed on to the Hall of Fame, who chose in 1991 to permanently remove anyone on the permanently banished list from consideration for the Hall of Fame.

That meant that Rose, who would have appeared for the first time on the ballot in 1992, was no longer eligible for the Hall of Fame.

The prevailing rule ever since has been that an MLB player or otherwise affiliated employee is allowed to bet on sports, but not baseball.

That rule made sense when MLB was not accepting any money from gambling-associated organizations for advertising. Now, MLB has odds on its own network’s broadcasts along with advertisements throughout ballparks and broadcasts for gambling.

A player who chose to remain anonymous stated, “It’s incredibly misleading. We’re told in one meeting not to place any bets on baseball, then in the next meeting told to make sure to promote the gambling company who has naming rights on our stadium or jerseys or stuff like that.”

The line on gambling in the game has become significantly more fuzzy, and now the game’s biggest star is facing a federal investigation because of something that, reportedly, his translator did in his name.

MLB can attempt to be in the stands observing and claim innocence, but their own actions are pulling them down into the fracas and implicating the league in creating the environment in the first place.