April 25, 1976 will go down as the day Rick Monday stole headlines away from the Vietnam War. This period of American history would be a wacky one for a country celebrating its bicentennial.
Monday, then with the Chicago Cubs, would have his best season as a Major League Baseball player, batting .272 with 32 home runs and 77 runs batted in, but on a hazy Sunday in April was his most significant career accomplishment.
Setting the scene, the Cubs were at Chavez Ravine playing the Los Angeles Dodgers when in the fourth inning, Cubs pitcher Steve Stone got Dodgers second baseman Ted Sizemore to pop up to Monday in center field for an out.
Out of the corner of his eye, Monday saw two people, 37-year-old William Thomas and his 11-year-old son, attempting to burn an American flag. Here is Vin Scully on that day describing the heroic effort as only he can.
Monday raced from his position in center field toward the protestors, who were set up just beyond the first cut of grass near shortstop and third base. Monday snatched the flag from Thomas and his son and raced down towards the Dodgers dugout on the third base side.
The end result was a momentarily delay, but for good reason. The Dodgers faithful gave Monday a thunderous standing ovation for his efforts. The act got so much fanfare around Dodger Stadium that there was commentary put up on message board that read “Rick Monday… You Made A Great Play” when he took his turn batting in the top of the fifth inning.
— MLB (@MLB) April 25, 2016
So, why has this been hailed as one of the most patriotic moments in baseball history?
It can go many different ways. What Rick Monday said afterwards to reporters may symbolize the significance of the situation.
“If (Thomas is) going to burn a Flag, he better do it in front of somebody who doesn’t appreciate it,” Monday said to the Los Angeles Times on April 25, 1976. “I’ve visited enough veterans’ hospitals and seen enough guys with their legs blown off defending the Flag.”
What Monday is referring to in this instance is the time that he spent after attending college at Arizona State University.
One of the commitments Monday made while playing with the Sun Devils for Bobby Winkles was to join the Marine Corps after leaving college. So Monday, 19 years old at the time, enlisted in the armed forces after being drafted No. 1 overall by the Kansas City Athletics in 1965.
“It was nothing I was forced into,” Monday said on Sept. 24, 1965. “I’m real happy to be with the Marines.”
Monday served six months in the Marine Corps following a solid stint in the A’s minor league system before being called up to the majors on Sept. 3, 1966. Following the 1971 season, Monday was traded to the Chicago Cubs for pitcher Ken Holtzman.
What makes the storyline for Monday’s efforts so intriguing is that he played for the Dodgers for eight seasons (1977-1984) after his Cubs’ career was over and has been on the Dodgers’ broadcasting team since 1993.
His blueprint on the game of baseball may have been solidified on April 25, 1976, but his legacy lives on. For the 40th anniversary of what is dubbed “The American Flag Incident”, he was honored by both Arizona State University and the Los Angeles Dodgers for his courageous act.
Monday’s passion carries on 40 years later as he would not change anything on that day.
“I believe it was wrong then, and I still feel that way and very happy that I was geographically close enough to stop these guys from desecrating the American flag,” he said to KABC-TV on April 25, 2016.
So on this Fourth of July, a federal holiday in the United States, take some time to remember the significance that this heralded Dodger provided when he saved a piece of cloth from being burnt in front of thousands of people.
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