The white flag with a simple blue "W" has risen from relative obscurity as a banner hoisted at Wrigley Field to indicate a Cubs victory to a prevalent symbol of fan optimism and the team’s recent success in just a matter of years.
Although the Cubs 2017 season came up short Thursday in a disappointing 4-1 National League Championship Series loss to the Dodgers, the “W” flag appears to be here to stay.
Over the course of history, flags have been flown to inspire patriotism, mark notable accomplishments and spark movements across the globe.
In Chicago, the Cubs historic “W” flag has taken on new meaning as part of the organization’s “Fly the W” marketing campaign in which it’s presented pregame and postgame, win or lose. The “W” has been featured on T-shirts, hats, posters, rally towels and has even been distributed as stencils. And the flag itself remains a hot commodity, even more so than replica championship banners, according to local flagmakers.
Advertising Flag Co., based in south suburban Posen, has churned out the flag for the Cubs organization for about 40 years, along with the less popular blue flag with a white “L,” which is flown during losses, according to President Michael Olson. Last year, during the culmination of their first World Series in over a century, the “W” flag was his top seller, Olson said. The company also made the championship banners unveiled at the Cubs home opener this season, the division standing pennants near the center field scoreboard and the matchup flags flanking the iconic marquee in front of the park.
“We started making them for the park 40 years ago, but the popularity started going with them two years ago,” Olson said. “It’s nice to see a team kind of invent a new way to promote their team other than the standard logo. They’ve done very well taking a standard design that incorporates their history.”
The emblem has become virtually inescapable, on display from airports to skyscrapers and throughout the city. And the Cubs still raise the “W” flag near the center field scoreboard after wins, a tradition that began in 1937. Olson did not know how many “W” flags were sold last year, but he estimates the company produced about 3,000 more this year.
Season ticket holders Ross and Candice Finnelly, of Lemont, brought a “W” flag poster to Thursday’s Game 5 of the NLCS. They’re fully supportive of the new tradition, with one caveat: They only fly it after the game.
“All the time, I want to say, put that away,” Candice Finnelly said with a laugh.
As unwitting Dodgers fans asked ballpark employees about the significance of the flag, Ross Finnelly said he often finds himself explaining the history and meaning for family and friends from out of town.
“I think it’s a symbol everyone can get behind,” Ross Finnelly said. “It’s like singing ‘Go Cubs Go.’ Now, the team is winning, so we get to sing a lot more. It gives something for the fans to unite around. It gives everyone a common symbol to root for, to rally around.”
Olson said the Cubs have a rotation of “W” flags, and some are auctioned off for charity after their tour at Wrigley is over. Any extra inventory will be shelved for next season.
“Well, the thing is, they’re not really dated, so I guess they’ll bring them in for the following year,” said Olson, who added that the Cubs just placed an order for Astros and Yankees flags to add to the marquee.
Another local flagmaker, WGN Flag & Decorating, understands the amount of business that can come from a championship. The 101-year-old family-owned company on the South Side made the most recent championship Bulls and Blackhawks flags that hang from the United Center rafters, as well as some of the older ones that were replaced after the franchises moved from the old Chicago Stadium, according to CEO and owner Gus Porter III.
WGN, which has no connection to the broadcasting station, also dressed then-U.S. Cellular Field and much of the city in black and white White Sox paraphernalia during their 2005 playoff run that ended in a World Series title, Porter said.
WGN has also been a part of spreading the Cubbie love. The company still has stacks of boxes with Chicago Cubs World Series flags as well as “W” flags that it ordered from overseas last year.
“It was definitely a huge event,” Porter said about the 2016 World Series. “The W was flying left and right. It was everywhere.”
As one whose life and livelihood has revolved around flags, Porter said the value is much more than cloth and stitchwork.
“Flags command the absolute upmost respect,” Porter said. “People cherish the flag of United States, military flags, and in general, they just get emotional about flags. With sports, maybe less so. But even with the city of Chicago flag, they see it and there is an overwhelming sense of pride.”
Cubs fans felt that pride last year. Maybe next year they will be flying high again.