Rick Monday: An American hero
By Mark Langill
Arguably the greatest moment in the history of Dodger Stadium doesn’t belong to a Dodger. It wasn’t a big hit or dominating pitching performance. It wasn’t a spectacular catch of a baseball or a clutch stolen base that changed the momentum of a playoff series.
On a Sunday afternoon 40 years ago today, Chicago Cubs center fielder Rick Monday noticed something different out of the corner of his eye. L.A.’s Ted Sizemore was the leadoff batter against pitcher Ken Crosby in the bottom of the fourth inning when Monday watched two persons running onto the field with an American flag and a can of lighter fluid. Before they could ignite a flame — an apparent breeze blowing out their matches — Monday raced over and snatched the flag, a moment captured by Los Angeles Herald-Examiner photographer James Roark.
In the press box, publicity director Fred Claire directed scoreboard operator Bob Hunter Jr. to post “Rick Monday — You Made a Great Play” on the message board. Without prompting from public address announcer John Ramsey, a spontaneously chorus of “God Bless America” resonated from the crowd of 25,167. Monday’s heroics became a lasting image of the country’s bicentennial celebration in 1976.
During the past four decades, Monday has heard from fans on a seemingly daily basis about that fateful decision to take action. Although sporting a road uniform, Monday actually had Southern California roots as a 1962 graduate of Santa Monica High School. A Dodger scout named Tom Lasorda almost secured Monday’s autograph on a professional contract, but Monday’s mother wanted her son to attend college. After a standout career at Arizona State University, Monday was the first player selected in MLB’s inaugural amateur draft in 1965.
Monday spent 19 seasons in the Majors with the Athletics, Cubs and Dodgers. His most famous Dodger moment was saving another flag with his bat — a ninth-inning home run in the deciding Game 5 of the 1981 National League Championship Series at Montreal that gave Los Angeles an NL pennant. Monday rejoined the Dodgers as a broadcaster in 1993, and he still carries the label of “American hero” with humility and class, saying anyone would have done the same thing if given the opportunity.
Prior to tonight’s Dodgers-Marlins game, Monday will throw out the ceremonial first pitch. Pregame ceremonies will include the displaying of the American flag he saved in 1976, which has been in Monday’s proud possession for the past 40 years.
“When I think of the flag, I think of how it represents all our rights and freedoms as Americans,” said Roy Gleason, the former Dodger outfield prospect and Purple Heart recipient who had one career at-bat in 1963 and later served in Vietnam. “For someone to even think about burning a flag, it makes me upset. I’m glad it was Rick playing center field and not me. He did the intelligent thing. I would’ve gone after both their heads. When I see the photo or hear a replay of Vin Scully’s radio broadcast, it brings tears to my eyes. It’s really heartfelt, and he defended our country by protecting the flag.
“I never asked Rick about saving the flag. I know I thanked him. What he did was about the call of duty on a baseball field because he could’ve just stood there. But he took action, and that’s what a leader does. I know he spent time in the Marine Corps Reserves, so he knew about protocol and respect. Every time I see Rick, I picture Rick picking up the flag. That was a fantastic play on his part.”