Barmes plays SS for a reason

PITTSBURGH – The most valuable asset a sports fan can have is the ability to read between the lines.

Total candor is rare from management types, simply because they have little to gain from it. Pay attention to what they say, but be just as diligent in noticing what they don’t say. And remember that actions speak louder than carefully-guarded words.

While filling in for injured second baseman Neil Walker, Jordy Mercer hit three home runs. This led a lot of people to wonder why Mercer isn’t the starting shortstop.

Here’s why: The Pirates don’t think Mercer has the necessary defensive skills to play the position regularly. Offense isn’t the primary criteria for selecting a shortstop.

In a perfect world, the shortstop would be like Barry Larkin, whose combination of offensive and defensive talent earned him election to the Hall of Fame. The world isn’t perfect. If you had to choose one dominant skill for a shortstop, it would be his defensive ability.

The Pirates clearly value leather over lumber at shortstop. That’s why they carry balsa bats like Clint Barmes and John McDonald.

A scout not affiliated with the Pirates was asked if he thought Mercer could play shortstop in the major leagues. “Not every day,” he said. “He would hit more than Barmes, but he’s not going to play defense as well.”

The Pirates share that evaluation, even though they’re never going to publicly say that.

That doesn’t mean Mercer can’t play second base or be a utility player. It just means his glove isn’t good enough for the demands of shortstop on a regular basis.

The information is right there, between the lines.

Mike is miserable

Is NBC hockey analyst Mike Milbury the world’s most miserable man, or is he just playing that role on TV?

Many things displease the perpetually-scowling Milbury, and he isn’t shy about sharing them. It’s like he downs a Big Gulp of vinegar before he goes on the air.

Sometimes the demands of TV force people to exaggerate a persona, but Milbury’s record indicates he comes by this unpleasantness legitimately.

As a player, he once went into the stands at Madison Square Garden, removed a fan’s shoe and pounded the fan with the shoe. As a coach, he chased referee Denis Morel down the hall at the Civic Arena, profanely berating him for his work in a playoff game against the Penguins.

And it was Milbury who proclaimed Penguins coach Bob Johnson as “the professor of goonism” in the 1991 playoffs.

He snarls at broadcast partners like Jeremy Roenick and Keith Jones and redefines “curmudgeon.”

On the other hand, you can be sure that any compliments from Milbury are well-earned.

Mehno can be reached at