It's Flag Day, a fitting time to recall the actions of a former Cub

The Herald
Everett, Washington

June 14, 1998

Reprinted by special permission

By LARRY HENRY Sports Columnist

On 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.

People don't forget, even 22 years after the fact.

"You 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."

Not scary, Rick. Noble.

Just as what you did on that day was noble.

"You 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."

On 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.

Though 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.

The 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.

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.

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.

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.

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."

Monday 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."

A glorious tribute to Old Glory.

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