MLB, NL

The What, Why, and Where of the Cubs’ W Flag

NL West team flags on the left, Central teams in the middle, and East teams on the right.

If you plan to go to a Cubs game at Wrigley Field this year, or even a road during the regular season or the playoffs, chances are very good that you’ll see lots of Ws. They’ll be everywhere, from t-shirts to car flags to building windows. And when the game ends and the Cubs win, they’ll be all over the ballpark, as well. So what exactly does all this mean?

Cubs' W Flag

The broomstick flagpole indicates a sweep

 

What does the W flag mean?

As you might guess, the W is shorthand for “Win.” Cubs announcer Harry Caray used to shout “Cubs Win!” after every ballgame where the Cubs emerged victorious in the 1980s and 1990s. The binary nature of a baseball game–one team wins, and the other one loses–lends itself to two types of flags. The white flag with a blue W is the only one that Cubs fans want to celebrate, but there is a contrasting blue flag with a white L available for when the Cubs lose. But who wants to celebrate that?

Cubs' W Flag

The L flag flies over Wrigley much less often than it used to.

 

Cubs' W Flag

Win or Lose, the flag stays up overnight.

Why is the W flag flown?

The history behind the W flag lore is perhaps the most interesting part. According to Stuart Shea’s “Wrigley Field: The Long Life and Contentious Times of the Friendly Confines,” the practice of displaying a flag after each game began during the 1940s, long before the Internet was available to tell fans how their team fared at the ballpark. Since the Chicago Transit Authority’s elevated train line (now known as the Red Line) passed just a block to the east of Wrigley Field, passengers on the train could look out the window and tell at a glance what they most wanted to know. No scores or game details were provided, just the basic information: W(in) or L(oss). That’s all most fans really want to know, anyway.

The color scheme of the flags has shifted over time, according to Shea’s book. The practice of using flags began in the 1940s, and at some undetermined point in the 1980s, the color scheme was reversed. This means the modern blue-on-white flag has never http://www.achaten-suisse.com/ flown above Wrigley Field after a Cubs World Series victory at Wrigley Field. The Cubs won game six of the 1945 World Series, when the flags may have already been in use, but the flags had the opposite color scheme of what is used today. Every Cubs fan wants to see the W after a game, but seeing it at the World Series just hasn’t happened. At least not yet, anyway.

The commercial value of the flag hasn’t really been realized until the past ten years or so. When the  Cubs defeated San Diego in the first two games of the 1984 playoffs at Wrigley Field, there weren’t any copycats  in the stands at the ballpark. The Cubs also won a game over San Francisco in the 1989 playoffs (now known as the NLCS, but such a designation wasn’t yet being made), but W flags were nowhere to be seen, either in the stands or on the fans themselves.

Cubs' W Flags                                                                                          Cubs walking bear logo carrying a W flag, 2004.

In 2003, the Cubs won two postseason games at Wrigley Field, one against the Atlanta Braves and another against the Florida Marlins. The W flag’s commercial appeal was starting to be recognized at that time, and W flags, shirts and other gear began to be seen in the streets around the ballpark. What began as a utilitarian way of  telling fans about the day’s results had become an iconic symbol of the team and its often-unrealized aspirations for success.

 

Cubs' W Flags

NL West team flags on the left, Central teams in the middle, and East teams on the right.

 

Where is the W flag flown?

In its simplest form, the W flag (or L flag, depending on the day’s results) was run up on the flag arms  on the center field scoreboard after the conclusion of each home game. During the game, there are three sets of flags flying from the scoreboard.  The American flag, as always, flies at the top of the scoreboard.

The set of flags on the right, as you look at the scoreboard from the grandstand, represents the five teams in the National League East. Fittingly enough, it’s also the easternmost part of the scoreboard, closest to Lake Michigan. The flags are flown in order, with the team in first place on that day at the top, and the team in last place flown at the bottom. The flags have the name of each team, and they correspond to the teams’ uniform colors . The New York Mets, for example, have an orange flag with the word “Mets” written in blue. The Phillies have a red flag with the team name in white. And the Miami Marlins once had a distinctive teal flag, but since they dropped teal from their uniform colors in 2011, their team flag on the scoreboard no longer reflects this, either.

When the Cubs lose a game at home, these flags are taken down and the blue L flag is run up in their place. The flag remains there overnight, telling anyone who wants to know that the Cubs weren’t successful on that day.

On the left flag arm is the flags for the National League’s West division. The Colorado Rockies are white on purple, the San Francisco Giants are orange on black, and so forth. 

Cubs' W Flag

The postgame result every Cubs fan wants to see

 

The flags in the center arm are for the National League’s Central division, and no flags are run up from this position, win or lose. And if you’re looking for American League standings, forget it. This is still a National League park, after all.

The Cubs have the best home record in MLB during the 2016 season, which means the W flag has been seen in abundance this year. So why not head out to the ballpark to see it for yourself?  As common as these sightings have been during the regular season, seeing it in October will be a rare and exciting treat for all Cubs fans.

by R. Lincoln Harris

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