June 14, 1998
by special permission
LARRY HENRY Sports Columnist
this day we pay special tribute to the U.S. flag, Rick
Monday will dig into his mail from the last week and probably
find a letter praising him for his own selfless act to
save Old Glory.
don't forget, even 22 years after the fact.
know what's crazy is I get letters on it weekly," Monday
was saying last Sunday. "What's surprising is a great
majority of them are from young people, some of whom weren't
even alive at the time, which is scary."
scary, Rick. Noble.
as what you did on that day was noble.
figure, well, it's something that happened a long time
ago," he said. "Quite frankly, I was embarrassed by the
attention I got doing something that anybody in their
right mind would have done."
this day, Monday was sitting in the visitors' broadcasting
booth in the Kingdome, preparing for his Dodgers pre-game
sports radio show. Retired as a player in 1984, he's in
his fifth year as a Dodger broadcaster.
Monday had a solid 19-year playing career, he is best
remembered not for a hit or a catch but for a grab --
of the American Flag that was about to be torched by a
couple of protestors.
day was April 25, 1976. The Cubs were playing the Dodgers
in Los Angeles. Patrolling center field for the Cubs was
30-year-old Rick Monday, who was embarked upon what would
be the best season of his career, with 32 home runs and
77 runs batted in. Eleven years earlier, he had been the
first player taken in Major League Baseball's first free
agent amateur draft. His most memorable years were yet
to come. Traded to Los Angeles in January of '77, he would
play in three World Series for the Dodgers and help win
a World Championship in 1981.
this spring day in '76, he was on a Cubs team that was
headed for a fourth-place finish in the National League
East. It was the fourth inning with the Dodgers batting.
The Vietnam War had ended a year before, but people didn't
need a war in order to protest. What these two ding-a-lings
who had just dashed onto the field of Dodger Stadium were
all about nobody knew, but here they were, and where was
security? They had come from the left-field corner and
had run past Cubs left fielder Jose Cardenal. One carried
something under his arm but Monday couldn't distinguish
what it was.
they reached shallow left-center, they stopped and brought
out the object. Monday could see now what it was: the
U.S. flag. He recalled that they laid it on the ground
almost as if they were about to have a picnic. Then one
of them dug into his pocket and brought out something
shiny and metallic. "I figured having gone to college
two and two is sometimes four," Monday said. "They were
dousing it with lighter fluid."
they lit a match. Which flared momentarily and died.
now, Monday was in full stride, running towards them.
"To this day, I don't know what I was thinking," he said.
"Except bowl them over." He was also thinking they were
trying to commit a terrible act. "What they were doing
was extremely wrong as far as I was concerned," said Monday,
who served six years in the Marine Reserves.
reached them about the time they got the second match
lit and were about to torch the flag. "There's a picture
that I think won a Pulitzer Prize and it showed me reaching
down and grabbing the flag," he said.
He was not alone in trying to protect it. Tommy Lasorda,
the Dodgers third base coach at the time, ran onto the
field and, as Monday laughingly recalled, was "yelling
every expletive in the world." This was the same Lasorda
who had tried to sign Monday to a Dodgers contract while
he was still in high school in the pre-draft days.
got the flag and handed it to Doug Rau, a Dodgers pitcher.
That was the last Monday saw of it until a month later.
The Dodgers came to Wrigley Field and Al Campanis, a Dodgers
executive, presented the flag to Monday. "It's displayed
very proudly in my home," he said.
Monday got a hero's welcome wherever the Cubs played the
rest of that season. It was the last thing he wanted.
He had simply done what he thought was the right and honorable
thing to do. He had visited a veterans' hospital when
he played for Oakland and had seen how people's lives
had been shattered fighting for what that flag represents.
"It's the way I was brought up," he said. "You would have
done the same thing had you been as close geographically
as I was, to get the idiots stopped."
told a cute story about Cardenal. In every city the Cubs
visited from then on, Monday was cited for his actions,
and Cardenal would jokingly say, "Oh, jeez, you're gonna
get another presentation." There came a day in some ballpark
when the Cubs were coming off the field and atop their
dugout were two guys waving a flag -- of the Confederacy.
Cardenal quickly cut in front of Monday and said, "No,
no, no. I'm gonna get this one." Monday had to give the
Cuban-born Cardenal a quick summary of American history
to prevent a possible incident.
As for his own flag-saving actions, Monday recognized
that were he to do the same thing today, he might be arrested
for violating someone else's rights. "But to hell with
them," he said. "They can come and lock me up right now
because if they did it again, I'd do the same thing."
glorious tribute to Old Glory.