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Bob Raissman: All eyes on Shohei Ohtani and Dodgers’ gambling scandal for Sunday Night Baseball opener

Dodgers star Shohei Ohtani
Dodgers star Shohei Ohtani is front and center to start the season for all the wrong reasons.
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Like other commissioners, Rob Manfred was looking to get his sport, Major League Baseball, big moolah and big-time exposure through its partnership with an “official” gambling sponsor.

It’s unlikely Manfred ever envisioned MLB’s biggest star, , throwing baseball into turmoil through an out-of-the-blue betting “scandal” allegedly involving his now former aide-de-camp Ippei Mizuhara.

This dark side of gambling, which despite the proliferation of the legalized brand appears to be alive and well, is taking MLB down a crooked alley of serious allegations; featuring betrayal, illegal bookmaking operations and $4.5 million in gambling debts.

This web is more than tangled.

And it isn’t the kind of publicity Manfred, the owners and MLB’s TV partners wanted when they received all that sponsorship money to incorporate gambling (legal, of course) into a game that has a rich history of shunning betting.

This is the time of a season when baseball should be preoccupied with celebrating and selling hope to each fan base. It’s no time to be living out a nightmare. And this isn’t about some nondescript utility man. This is Superman. This is SHOHEI OHTANI.

If they could, does anyone doubt Manfred and ESPN would flex out of its Cardinals-Dodgers Sunday Night Baseball opener and replace it with another game? This celebration of another new beginning for baseball comes with baggage — and that’s being kind.

Even if it’s just through perception, the sleazy side of the game will be part of the “SNB” festivities. It gets its very own national TV platform. In a perverse sense, the Ohtani gambling controversy might attract more eyeballs to ESPN’s Sunday night opener. If he is DHing, how will he react at the plate? Will Ohtani feel any added pressure?

ESPN’s “SNB” voices can’t avoid the story. They probably will regurgitate the facts (and any new developments in the story) while wondering how Ohtani handles the situation moving forward. They won’t dwell on it, but will do just enough to cover the facts (and their backsides) during the game.

Depending how the story unfolds, national baseball voices will have plenty of chances to comment on it throughout the season. With Ohtani being baseball’s marquee attraction, on a team expected to win big, the Dodgers will get maximum appearances on ESPN, Fox and Turner Sports.

With investigations by the Feds and MLB investigators apparently underway, sponsors have yet to bail on Ohtani. Commercials that he appears in are still running. Yet any new advertisers contemplating doing business with Ohtani might be leery.

And so might Ohtani.

With his “trusted” sidekick, Mizuhara, exiled, Ohtani is basically left alone to deal with the media and listen to what everyone is saying about him. It all continues Sunday night.

MARCH BLUNDER

The men’s basketball selection committee, which chose only three Big East schools for the NCAA Tournament, apparently has a limited knowledge of basketball.

They are largely business people masquerading as athletic executives.

But it’s the television suits at CBS and Turner who scheduled the tip-off times for the West Region’s Sweet Sixteen to be earlier in the evening than the East Region games played in Boston.

This impacts both the ticket-buyers and the television viewers on both coasts. It was a blunder.

A GIANT TARGET

Is John Mara, perceived as the calm, steady rocking Giants president/co-owner, morphing into a media target?

Mara was recently torched on two-fronts. On Tuesday, Sal Licata, whose WFAN volume control must always be stuck on “high,” accused Mara of, among other things, “having too much impact on Giants decisions.”

How dare Mara have any “impact” on his team. Licata’s beef was strange. Mara’s co-owns the team. He’s bound to have an impact on the team’s direction, right?

The other arrow came from Pro Football Talk’s Mike Florio. After Mara went public saying his coach Brian Daboll should “tone down” his bully-boy shtick, Florio said the owner airing his coach out publicly was a “sign of dysfunction.”

“John Mara should never say that publicly — ever should say that publicly,” Florio said on Pro Football Talk. “That’s something you should handle behind closed doors with a coach. You don’t embarrass him that way publicly.”

Unless Mara feels that embarrassing Daboll is the only way to stop him from throwing tantrums.

MONEY ‘KNOCKS’

It must be the money.

Why else would NFL owners approve new qualification rules, which increases the pool of teams available to appear on HBO’s “Hard Knocks?”

In the past, a team could decline appearing on “HK” if it made the playoffs at any time during the past two seasons. That rule has been dumped.

And any team appearing on “HK” in the past 10 years could duck participating in the show under the old rules. That number now has been reduced to eight years.

Over the past few years, there has been speculation that “HK” was on the verge of being cancelled. These new rules put that scenario to rest. Also, In Season Hard Knocks will continue. It will now feature four teams from the same division.

AROUND THE DIAL

YES cracked the seal on a new season Thursday in Houston with a Michael Kay essay on the great Yankee left-handed hitters who used the right field porch to their advantage. Of course, YES prematurely included Juan Soto in that category. The comparison only works if the Bombers sign Soto to a long-term deal. … Working on the fly Monday, MLB Network’s Ron Darling and Alex Avila brought perspective to Shohei Ohtani’s explanation of the uncomfortable situation he now finds himself in. … Speaking of gambling, what are the odds ESPN’s Mike Greenberg wishes he never said the UConn men’s basketball team could beat an NBA squad? His follow-up, that he was only kidding, was hard to process or believe. … The NFL owners know outlets will pay crazy money to acquire rights to televise games. The TV suits don’t care about further rule changes (like the banning of the hip-drop tackle) continuing to chip away at the hard edges that made NFL football a great TV product. … Those who were shouted down when they urged Draymond Green to get some help knew what they were talking about. … Speaking of anger management, do Robert Saleh and Woody Johnson need some help in that area? Or are they simply victims of a bogus report from people who have no use for the Jets organization, its owner and its coach? … As expected, Ian (The Bird) Eagle is delivering high quality performances during the NCAA men’s hoops tourney. But we need to know if he can “play” the harmonica like Jim Nantz?

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DUDE OF THE WEEK: UFC MMA FIGHTERS

For having onions. Yes, it takes guts to sue a corporate giant that controls your career, but the $335 million settlement reached last week with the UFC’s parent company for back pay is a resounding win for the athletes.

DWEEB OF THE WEEK: ROGER GOODELL

For some bogus scheduling. It’s never enough for the commish and the owners. The league announced Tuesday it will force four teams to play on national TV Dec. 21 (Saturday) and Christmas day (Wednesday Dec. 25). This, of course, is in the name of revenue — not player safety.

DOUBLE TALK

What Brian Daboll said: “So you continue to grow, you continue to evolve and that’s what I try to do every year.”

What Brian Daboll meant to say: “Some folks want me to calm down, but I gotta be me.”

 

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