Subtitled “Inside the Cubs’ Quest for October,” this is a disappointing book about a disappointing team.
George Castle has served as the Cubs beat reporter for The Times of Northwest Indiana. Entangled in Ivy is less an examination of the disappointment of the Andy MacPhail era as it a autobiography of Castle’s coverage of the MacPhail era and his retrospective observations. Which is by no means a bad thing, in and of itself.
Unfortunately, there is little new in this book for longtime followers of the Cubs. Castle does provide a nice overview of the problems of the MacPhail era. He writes of MacPhail’s philosophy of trying to be “competitive” rather than trying to win the World Series, the lack of position player development, the lack of hitters’ patience at the plate, and a too-small front office team (the Cubs have an assistant general manager—Randy Bush—this year for the first time since the Cubs hired MacPhail). In the process, though, Castle puts blame on minor issues. He argues that Wrigley Field is too old to have necessary amenities for the players, and the last few pages of the book are devoted to the supposed perils of day games at Wrigley.
Castle also provides some nice profiles of various Cubs’ personalities, including Derrek Lee, Carlos Zambrano, Michael Barrett, and Len Kasper. You will come away from this book liking Ryan Dempster more than you do now, even if you already like him a lot.
Too much of Entangled in Ivy ends up being about Castle himself. Two of his complaints are of 1) the food spreads for the media, or lack thereof, at certain press conferences, and 2) the working conditions for the media at Wrigley Field.
Too much of the book is also consumed by quotes Castle obtained in interviews, as if the sole fact that someone significant made the quote makes it worth repeating. Sometimes the quote is insignificant or boring. Of course, some of the quotes probably save us from passages like this (p. 230):
Both [Zambrano and Barrett] have tremendous baseball intellect, some of it as yet untapped. They’ll be among the best at their craft when they can maximize their diamond knowledgeability while controlling their sometimes white-hot emotions.
Both must learn as they go.
Additionally, there are some frustrating aspects of the style this book. Castle often utilizes the staple of the sportswriter: passive voice construction. “MacPhail was questioned . . .” “Concerns were raised . . .” Etc. Who raised the concerns?; usually, it’s likely the writer writing the story. It would be better for us to know. Castle also jumps back and forth in time from paragraph to paragraph without explaining he is doing so, so that you are not always sure what the context of a particular quote is.
The production of the book was also subpar. Strangely, the introduction in my copy of the book was cut off before the end, and there were more than a book’s fair share of spelling and grammatical errors.
Entangled in Ivy is a good resource on the MacPhail era, without going into the specifics of every personnel decision. It just is not that compelling of a read.