Photo of the W flag flying at Wrigley Field during a Chicago Cubs home game. 

Image Credit: Unique View (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Major League Baseball fans are well aware of the long history that accompanies both the Chicago Cubs and Wrigley Field. Notable figures include the Wrigleyville Rooftops, Steve Bartman, Ronnie Woo Woo, the curse of the Billy Goat and the black cat from the 1969 World Series. One tradition that rarely gets mentioned is the flying of the “W flag” at Wrigley Field. Who came up with the idea? How did the tradition begin?

The origins of the W flag began when William Wrigley Jr. purchased both Catalina Island and the Wilmington Transport Company in 1919 for $3 million. The Wilmington Transport Company ran tourists back and forth between California’s mainland (and the town of Wilmington) and Catalina Island. In fact, Catalina Island was the spring training locale for the Chicago Cubs from 1921-1941 and 1946-1951. The logo of the Wilmington Transport Company was a flag with a blue background and a white ‘W’. Those colors were later reversed during the 1980's when the franchise decided to retire Ernie Banks’ number.

Aerial photo of Catalina Island.

Image Credit: Everett Carrico

The ‘Flying the W’ tradition began after Philip K. Wrigley renovated Wrigley Field in 1937 by giving a face-lift to the bleachers and scoreboard in the outfield as well as adding a flag pole. Ivy on the outfield wall was also added to help players better make defensive plays at the wall. Wrigley began hanging the flag of each divisional team in the order of the team standings; a practice that has been adopted by most Major League ballparks today.

Additionally, the Wrigley Family also began hanging either a ‘W’ or ‘L’ flag on a yard arm which denoted whether the Chicago Cubs won their game that day. The flag would let people passing by Wrigley Field know the outcome of that day’s game while on their way home from work. This particular time period was long before the arrival of television and the internet. Lights were also used to compliment the ‘W’ and ‘L’ flags. If the Cubs won that day’s game, a green light would shine on the left side of the yard arm. If the Cubs lost that day’s game, a red light would shine on the right side of the yard arm.


The ‘W’ flag really began to gain notoriety when it appeared on T-shirts, golf flags and posters during the Chicago Cubs playoff run in 2003. The team eventually lost to the Florida Marlins in the NLCS that year. On August 3rd, 2006, both the ‘W’ and ‘L’ flag were displayed for the first time on the same day following a split doubleheader vs. the Arizona Diamondbacks. Last season, more than a century since the Chicago Cubs’ last World Series title in 1908, the team was finally able to hang the ‘W’ flag on the final day of the Major League Baseball postseason. The ‘W’ flag may no longer serve much purpose in this day and age and the Wrigley Field outfield may look much different today, however, the Chicago Cubs organization and their fans see the ‘W’ flag as a symbol of passion, history and unity.




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