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My interest in Major League Baseball peaked when I was around 9 years old. While I probably couldn't name a dozen major leaguers today, I can still tell you the entire lineup for the 1974 and 1975 Chicago Cubs. One player in particular, centerfielder Rick Monday, will forever be in my memory. It was on this day, thirty years ago, during our nation's bicentennial, during an untelevised day game in Los Angeles against the Dodgers that two pieces of human debris took the field and attempted to burn the American flag...but they hadn't counted on Rick Monday.
In his own words:
In between the top and bottom of the fourth inning, I was just getting loose in the outfield, throwing the ball back and forth. Jose Cardenal was in left field and I was in center. I don't know if I heard the crowd first or saw the guys first, but two people ran on the field. After a number of years of playing, when someone comes on the field, you don't know what's going to happen. Is it because they had too much to drink? Is it because they're trying to win a bet? Is it because they don't like you or do they have a message that they're trying to present?
When these two guys ran on the field, something wasn't right. And it wasn't right from the standpoint that one of them had something cradled under his arm. It turned out to be an American flag. They came from the left-field corner, went past Cardenal to shallow left-center field.
That's when I saw the flag. They unfurled it as if it was a picnic blanket. They knelt beside it, not to pay homage but to harm it as one of the guys was pulling out of his pocket somewhere a big can of lighter fluid. He began to douse it.
What they were doing was wrong then, in 1976. In my mind, it's wrong now, in 2006. It's the way I was raised. My thoughts were reinforced with my six years in the Marine Corp Reserves. It was also reinforced by a lot of friends who lost their lives protecting the rights and freedoms that flag represented.
So I started to run after them. To this day, I couldn't tell you what was running through my mind except I was mad, I was angry and it was wrong for a lot of reasons.
Then the wind blew the first match out. There was hardly ever any wind at Dodger Stadium. The second match was lit, just as I got there. I did think that if I could bowl them over, they can't do what they're trying to do.
I saw them go and put the match down to the flag. It's soaked in lighter fluid at this time. Well, they can't light it if they don't have it. So I just scooped it up.
After the guys left, there was a buzz in the stands, people being aghast with what had taken place. Without being prompted, and I don't know where it started, but people began to sing 'God Bless America.' When I reflect back upon it now, I still get goose bumps.
He's not the only one who still gets goose bumps. As if being the centerfielder for Chicago Cubs didn't make someone a big enough hero to a ten year old suburban Chicago kid...saving the American flag from two asshats forever put Monday in a whole new category and is one of the 100 Classic Moments in the History of the Game as determined by the Baseball Hall of Fame.
That same season, Monday hit a career-high 32 non-steroid home runs before the Cubs traded him and reliever Mike Garman to the Dodgers for outfielder Bill Buckner and shortstop Ivan DeJesus. Monday went on to win three pennants with the Dodgers, one as the result of Monday's ninth-inning home run in the deciding game of the 1981 NL Championship Series at Montreal before beating the Yankees in the World Series. Monday is also famous for being the first player chosen in the very first draft in 1965 after leading Arizona State to a College World Series title. He was a two-time All-Star with impressive numbers during his 19 major league seasons. But, Rick Monday will always be most remembered for what he did one Sunday afternoon thirty years ago today.
The famous photograph, taken by James Rourke, was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize but, of course didn't win because it wasn't at all anti-American...maybe if they had succeeded in burning the flag. A Super8 16mm video of the incident taken by a fan surfaced in 1984,
but hasn't made it to the internet yet [see update below]. The whole article along with more photographs by Rourke and the play-by-play call made by Vin Scully on the radio that day is available at MLB.com.
[Update I:] In honor of the 30th anniversary of Rick Monday saving the American flag, the Los Angeles Dodgers recognized Rick Monday on Sunday, April 23 with a video tribute. If this link ever stops working, please let me know. I have a downloadable version but didn't want to post it for bandwidth purposes. However, if you click on the picture you can see just the portion of the video where Rick Monday saves the American Flag.
[Update II:] See Patriot Guard Riders Bring Rick Monday Flag Through Oklahoma for more information and pictures of the actual flag that Rick Monday saved!
To all those who have been looking for a print of the photo of Rick Monday saving the American flag in center field, you can now order one from AP through Pictopia.Posted by Don |
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