By Dan Bernstein —
CBSChicago.com senior columnist
(CBS) One phrase keeps appearing in discussions with Cubs fans about where they reside emotionally as we await the start of the 2017 MLB playoffs, and it’s “house money.”
Not being much of a gambler myself, I can’t say I’ve truly experienced the phenomenon, but it’s the giddy feeling of being up big and still risking the winnings and looking for more. The Cubs themselves may not have the option of declaring ultimate victory and walking out of the casino in this extended metaphor, but those otherwise connected to their fortunes may have already done so, in a way, whether they know it or not.
And that’s where the “house money” concept fails to capture adequately the difference between now and last year at this time, in that the 2016 World Series title won’t be taken away, isn’t at risk and can’t be. In the real world, even a big pile of gains on the house can evaporate in a blink, leaving the bettor back at the starting point of even or soon deep in the hole into unaffordable losses. That can’t occur in this scenario, because the championship and the entire experience are banked away safely, in no danger of somehow un-happening.
Those reaching for the term may be trying to describe what’s deeper and more permanent, however, and it’s something we’ve explored in this space before, the idea of Cubs fandom never being the same. It can’t be, of course, despite protestations to the contrary coming from those who seem to need desperation. This is all essentially different, in a way entirely expected and understandable.
That’s the trade-off for generational catharsis, the making good on a contract that gives one thing and takes away another.
A tinge of melancholy is palpable here this time around, even if many involved insist that every season is self-contained, its own journey to be savored and celebrated independently. That’s simply not true, and it has never been more evident than with this Cubs team that needed time well into the summer to find itself after a months-long party and roster remodeling. The various ring ceremonies alone carried up to the All-Star break, and the inescapable David Ross became a symbol of victory more than he has become a dancer or broadcaster.
Executives can believe such things and are tasked with approaching their jobs with that kind of rigor that treats each year as its own. Players can think that way, too, because every team is indeed a specific entity consisting of different people coming from new places, with others moved away. Those actually doing the work are insulated from these effects.
It all looks and sounds similar, as we will build to the Cubs’ playoff opener in Washington D.C. on Friday with the usual debates over lineups and the pitching rotation, watching video of batting practice, listening to concerns about down time and readiness and rust and checking injury updates. After six desultory, successful enough months, we’re here again.
But make no mistake that it’s uncharted territory for millions of people with years upon years of deep investment in these outcomes completely out of their control, unable to return to that perspective and identity to which so many clung. Those who filled the streets of the city and Grant Park, those compelled to make a pilgrimage to Wrigley Field, those scrawling messages in chalk on the bricks like worshipers at the Western Wall, craving tangible connection.
The truth is there may be another Cubs’ World Series win, and there could be several more, while there was really only ever one.