My friends and colleagues at Power Line and Shot In The Dark post today about one of the many memorable moments from Dodger Stadium. Rather than a baseball play or a championship season, though, they recall the heroic actions of then-Chicago Cubs outfielder Rick Monday on April 25, 1976, when he rescued the flag from protestors who had run onto the field to burn it. Make sure you read both posts, but being the lifelong Dodger fan that I am, I’d like to add another perspective to this story.
First, here’s the story from Larry Henry, a sportswriter from the Everett Herald in Washington, written in 1998 to celebrate Flag Day:
On 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.
Once 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.”
Then they lit a match. Which flared momentarily and died.
By 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.
He 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. … Monday 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.
Dodger coach Tommy Lasorda had also started running out to the outfield from the other direction, and fortunately for the two nuts involved, security got there before he did. Monday, in other interviews, has said that Lasorda had murder in his eyes as Monday passed him in full stride. He had no doubt that the two individuals, who appeared stoned and somewhat amused at Monday’s deft steal of the flag, would have presented no challenge whatsoever to the middle-aged but well-known battler.
Lasorda himself, in his memoirs from years ago, acknowledged that he meant to stop the pair any way he could. But that was not the prevailing attitude in 1976. For those too young to recall, the nation had reached what we thought was the depth of our national crisis of confidence. A year earlier, we had watched on television as the last Americans in Saigon had to be airlifted out by helicopter from our doomed embassy as the North Vietnamese overran the allies we abandoned in 1973. Two years earlier, our President resigned from the office he disgraced, taking the credibility of the national law-enforcement and intelligence agencies with him.
With the bicententennial of the Declaration of Independence coming up, the country had started a celebration of the event that overloaded on red, white, and blue. The nation tried to put on a coat of faux patriotism it didn’t really feel, and the entire effort felt commercialized and hypocritical. With Independence Day two months away, many already had had enough of the celebration.
However, when Monday took off with the flag, all of the cynicism and defeatism of the past two years melted away. Watching Monday rescue the flag from two lunatics who tried to hijack a baseball game for their protest, which would have provided the perfect nadir of American morale at that time, the crowd did something no one expected. Lasorda recalled in his book that starting softly, the crowd started singing “God Bless America”, completely unprompted, until all of the tens of thousands of Dodger fans had joined together to sing it. It was one of the few unscripted and spontaneous patriotic displays in our Bicentennial, and one of the most moving at any time.
Monday became a favorite of Dodger fans from that moment on, and the next year the team traded for Monday. He played on three pennant-winning Dodger teams and played a key role in their World Series win in 1981. Today he still works for the Dodgers as a broadcaster, continuing an almost 30-year association with the team that began with that daring rescue of Old Glory. Monday not only saved the flag from burning that day, but at least for a brief moment in time, united us in genuine love of country and showed us what real patriotism looked like. For that, Monday has always been and always will be one of my favorite Dodgers — and favorite sports figures — of all time.
Just another slice of Dodger history that I hope everyone will enjoy.
UPDATE: CQ reader E.O. reminds me that the scoreboard operator at Dodger Stadium recognized the import of Monday’s actions immediately. After the incident, he or she put up the message: RICK MONDAY – YOU MADE A GREAT SAVE! Quite an acknowledgement for a visiting player.