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Original Issue


MOST OWNERS OF professional sports teams are willing to make a tough decision and stand by it through thick and thin, come hell or high water—unless somebody on the Internet doesn't like it. I mean, you can't just ignore criticism, especially if it is posted anonymously, because then it could be coming from anybody, like the president of a big country or your father. Who wants to disappoint his dad?

This may explain what just happened in Cleveland, where Browns owner Jimmy Haslam fired Sashi Brown, the team's executive vice president for football operations, last week. The official reason was that the Browns stink. Well, of course they stink. They were built to stink. As Haslam could tell you himself, the idea was to stink for a couple of years while accumulating so many young players and draft picks and clearing so much salary-cap space that, wait, what was the idea again?

The problem is that stinking for a while sounded O.K. before the Browns—who were 1--27 with Brown in charge of personnel—actually did it. Haslam fired Brown before he could even make compelling arguments on his own behalf, like "Seriously?" and "Does it help at all that my name is Brown?" In just his second year as the team's de facto general manager, Brown made some mistakes (passing on Carson Wentz and Deshaun Watson, for example), and maybe the team's plan never would have worked out, but Cleveland will have six extra picks in the next draft, as well as an estimated $100 million in cap room for 2018.

This, unfortunately, is the Browns' way. If they held a parade every time they fired somebody, the streets of downtown Cleveland would never be open. Since returning to Ohio in 1999, the Browns have had eight general managers (the most in the NFL) and nine coaches (tied for second). Their "plans" deteriorate so quickly that the team's logo should be a wet paper towel.

Haslam's family made money owning the Pilot Flying J travel plazas, so we should not be surprised that he runs his team as if he's in a rush to go somewhere. But the truth is that many sports teams operate in much the same way. Owners buy teams more for ego gratification than for the return on capital, and they often seem stunned when entire message boards are dedicated to villifying them. They react by either hiding or panicking, and neither is wise. They don't realize that sticking with your man when everybody says you're crazy may make for some awkward wedding toasts, but it can also lead to championships.

In sports, patience is as hard to find as a 23-year-old who throws 100 mph and has slugged as many as 22 home runs, which brings us to Japanese star Shohei Ohtani (page 38). The Angels signed Ohtani last week and promised to let him pitch and be a designated hitter.

This sounds great right now—every major league team would have done the same—but what happens if Ohtani has a 1.50 ERA and .150 batting average in July? What if he gets dead arm, an affliction common to hard throwers late in the season and cheap dinner dates when the check arrives? What if he struggles as a pitcher and a hitter? Will the Angels remember that virtually everybody in baseball considered Ohtani a two-way player?

If Ohtani breaks a finger on his pitching hand sliding into second base, many pundits who praise the Angels now will say they were foolish. The words "Shohei Ohtani experiment" will be uttered with the kind of disdain that New Yorkers use for "Chicago-style pizza."

And that is when we will find out if the Angels are willing to stick with a plan that made perfect sense when they hatched it. If they believe Ohtani is good enough to win a Cy Young Award and a batting title, they have to give him a few years to try to reach those goals. We don't know how Ohtani's first season will go, but I'm willing to bet it ends, as so many do, with the Browns firing somebody.

Owners don't realize that sticking with your man when everybody says you're crazy may make for some awkward wedding toasts, but it can also lead to championships.