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The Boston Globe

Sports

Bob Ryan

Alex Rodriguez and Johnny Manziel: 2 topics, 1 big headache

Alex Rodriguez, left, and Johnny Manziel have both found themselves surrounded by controversy recently.

EPA/AP photos

Alex Rodriguez, left, and Johnny Manziel have both found themselves surrounded by controversy recently.

Between Alex Rodriguez and Johnny Manziel, it sometimes gets a little difficult to focus on the actual games.

Each of their sagas is perfectly reflective of the times. We can’t get away from performance-enhancing drugs and we can’t get away from the sham that big-time college sports have become.

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I hate, hate, hate the entire topic of PEDs in sport. It completely clouds the issue. I’m neither a scientist nor a doctor and have never played either on TV. I wish I knew with 100 percent certainty which PEDs helped which people accomplish which feats. Or should I say “are helping” people accomplish feats? Because it would be rather naive to think plenty of people aren’t getting away with something even as we speak.

Let’s not allow Major League Baseball to take any bows for punishing the Biogenesis folks. Baseball’s sleuths turned up nothing.

Were it not for a disgruntled Biogenesis employee, none of the business would have become public knowledge.

It’s a bit self-satisfying to pile on the perps, but it’s also foolish. I was having a recent conversation about Ryan Braun, and I was saying that the Arizona Diamondbacks must really be upset because Braun absolutely moidered da bums (16 total bases and a 1.460 OPS) during the 2011 NLDS, won by the Brewers.

And then someone said, “How do you know half the Diamondbacks weren’t juiced themselves?”

The answer, of course, is that I don’t, and neither, I must assume, does anyone else.

At least that particular discussion puts the focus where it should be: on wins and losses.

Most of the baseball discussion involving the ramifications of PED usage center on Hall of Fame candidacy and record-breaking. They each resonate with me because I am a Hall of Fame voter and because I am a lifelong baseball fan who grew up believing that 60, 714, 511, 4,191, and 2,130 were sacred numbers.

You really couldn’t call yourself a proper baseball fan if you didn’t automatically associate those numbers with Babe Ruth, Babe Ruth, Cy Young, Ty Cobb, and Lou Gehrig, respectively. Baseball numbers have always had a glow unavailable to football, basketball, and hockey. That’s just the way it is.

Or was.

Things are different now. Barry Bonds may have hit more single-season and career home runs than anyone, but if we were to ask people whom they consider to be the legitimate Home Run King, most would say, “Hank Aaron.” Ask them who should be the regular-season home run champ, and a very large number would say, “Roger Maris.” Fine. Let the arguments begin.

Then we get to the Hall of Fame issue and it’s now hair-hurting time. I have always considered voting for the Hall of Fame to be a privilege. It has never been easy, but now it is an absurdly fruitless task, thanks to the specter of PEDs. The absolute easy way out is to go strictly by the same criteria everyone has used for more than 75 years, and that is to make numbers the top priority. A guy puts up huge numbers, you vote him in. Very simple.

Some very respected voters are doing just that. They have been voting for Mark McGwire throughout and they now vote for Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Rafael Palmeiro, and Sammy Sosa. They may or may not have voted for Mike Piazza and Jeff Bagwell, each a victim of the so-called “eye test.”

I can’t yet go there, at least not with McGwire, Bonds, Clemens, Palmeiro, and Sosa. I did vote for both Piazza and Bagwell. Am I right? Am I wrong? I really don’t know for sure. Am I confused and frustrated? Oh boy, am I.

Do I know which juiced pitchers threw to which juiced batters five, 10, or 15 years ago? Nope.

I keep saying that someday I might wake up and say, “OK, I give up. Put ’em all in,” and I might. Someday.

The big problem is that the real damage PEDs have done to baseball cannot ever be undone or corrected. Isn’t the whole idea of sport the actual competition? Keeping records is fine, but making or breaking records is incidental to the very purpose of any sporting enterprise, which is to deliver a winner.

It’s a reasonable assumption that, within the last decade, games, pennants, and World Series have been determined by cheaters. Perhaps cheaters defeated cheaters, and thus it’s an ethical wash, but we will never know. By the way, no one should get too smug around here.

The Johnny Football thing is an insult to any intelligent person’s intelligence. He signed his name 4,400 times out of the goodness of his heart? He is so mobbed on campus that he must resort to taking online courses? The “student” part of the laughable “student-athlete” designation has any remote meaning to him? Oh, please.

There is nothing new here. It wasn’t too long ago that we were being asked to swallow the idea that Cam Newton turned down money to attend Mississippi State but went to Auburn at the 11th hour for nothing? It was all worth it for Auburn. They lawyered up. They got their national championship. They made their money. Cam did what he was hired to do and moved on.

History is repeating itself nicely. Texas A&M has lawyered up with the same people that saved Auburn’s butt. They have way too much at stake to have done anything else. Johnny Football is a cash cow that must be milked.

College football and college basketball have been on my personal sports menu for as long as I can remember. But it is getting harder and harder to rationalize their existence, at least in the manner in which they have evolved, and it seems to me people are missing the point.

The question in this particular case is not, “Should college athletes be paid?” That is a fair question, but not a relevant one in the case of Johnny Manziel, who comes from a wealthy family. The question that should be asked is, “Do some of these adults who worship college sports have anything remotely resembling a real life?” Passion for a college sport or particular institution is one thing. A mindless obsession that puts any remote value on the signature of a 20-year-old college player is another thing entirely.

You know how Colombian drug dealers like to say that if Americans (and others) didn’t hunger for their product, there wouldn’t be any need to produce the drugs? Well, if those Texas A&M fans weren’t so sickly obsessed with college football, Johnny Manziel’s signature on a helmet would be worthless.

Anyway, there has been way too much PED and Johnny Football discussion. There are pennant races to decide, and the NFL is starting up. We’ve got the US Open and the FedEx Cup. Competition! The games themselves should take precedence — first, last, and always.

Bob Ryan's column appears regularly in the Globe. He can be reached at ryan@globe.com.
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