Why Was A-Rod Playing in the WBC?

Wednesday's Alex Rodriguez story du jour is that he may be forced out of the World Baseball Classic because of a cyst on his hip. As A-Rod stories go, this one's pretty tame. If he's hurt, he can't play in exhibition games, no matter how much his mother may have dreamed of seeing him play for the Dominican Republic. These are the sacrifices one has to make for $25 million.

He experienced stiffness, got a MRI that showed the cyst on Saturday and, finally, will see a specialist Wednesday. You have to assume that this doctor's pretty good if he couldn't squeeze Rodriguez into his schedule for three days, so we should know what's what before too much longer.

What gives this story a little juice, however, is word that the Yankees knew that Rodriguez's hip has been bothering him since late in the 2008 season. Kat O'Brien of Newsday spoke with a source close to the third baseman.

"He has had a hip issue for quite a while," the source said. "It was hindering his bat speed. I know in the offseason, he was working on it to get looser."

You don't have to get any further than hindering his bat speed to start wondering why Rodriguez was slated to play in the WBC. Or why he was playing in the first week of exhibition games for the Yankees. This isn't some utility player or fifth outfielder, this is the key to the Yankee offense. And they knew that he was hurting, but didn't think it merited any special care? Something doesn't fit.  

For all we know, the Yankees asked him to skip the tournament and A-Rod refused, although given the way news about A-Rod breaks we probably would have known that. Rodriguez also may have seen doctors who told him that playing wasn't going to make a difference in the condition of his hip.

It doesn't much matter, though. The Yankees season is more important than the WBC, regardless of how MLB tries to make it seem like a big event.

The WBC is a great idea. What baseball fan wouldn't want to see a high level international competition? The problem is that it isn't high-level, it's Spring Training with a patriotic twist. There's too much at risk for major leaguers, especially pitchers, for them to push themselves to the limit. That's fine for games in Clearwater and Dunedin, but attaching significance to such undertakings is disingenuous.

Josh Alper is a writer living in New York City and is a contributor to FanHouse.com and ProFootballTalk.com in addition to his duties for NBCNewYork.com.

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