Rick Monday will forever have a special place in baseball history. He became the first player picked in the MLB Draft era when the Kansas City Athletics selected him with the first overall pick in 1965 out of Arizona State University.
The College Baseball Hall of Fame and two-time All-Star outfielder then went on to hit 241 home runs and 775 RBIs in 19 Major League seasons with the Oakland Athletics, Chicago Cubs and Los Angeles Dodgers, winning the 1981 World Series with the Dodgers.
Monday’s most memorable moment on the diamond didn’t involve Dodger blue or Cubs blue, but rather the red, white and blue.
What happens when a guy who spent six years in the Marine Corps Reserves watches an anti-American protest literally unfold right in front of him? True patriotism.
Rick Monday Saves American Flag
The Los Angeles Dodgers were taking on the Chicago Cubs at Dodger Stadium on April 25, 1976, when two protestors — a father and his 11-year-old son — hopped the wall in center field in the fourth inning and headed to shallow left-field with an American flag in hand.
They began dousing the flag with lighter fluid and took out matches. Suddenly, Cubs outfielder Rick Monday ran by and swiped the flag from them before they could set it ablaze in left-center. The center fielder returned it to the dugout.
Dodgers legendary broadcaster Vin Scully had the call: “Rick Monday runs and takes it away from him. I think the guy was going to set fire to the American flag. Can you imagine that?”
Monday instantly became somewhat of an American hero to baseball fans. He explained to American Innings in a Youtube video why he took action that day:
“It angered me,” Monday said. “It angered me because that’s the way I was brought up. You don’t do that with the American flag. And then I thought well wait a minute they’re trying to ignite this thing, and I began to run at them.”
What Happened Next?
Fans at Dodger Stadium began singing “God Bless America” immediately after. The entire stadium belted the words.
An inning later when Monday came to bat, the crowd doused him with a standing ovation. The Dodger Stadium scoreboard put up a message for Monday, “Rick Monday…You made a great play.”
James Roark, a photographer with the Los Angeles Herald-Examiner at the time, snapped a photo that was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize.
Monday said about a month later when the Dodgers played the Cubs in Chicago, general manager Al Campanis presented him with the flag. He’s kept it ever since.
Monday wound up being traded to the Dodgers a year later after posting 32 homers and a .272 batting average. Los Angeles shipped off Bill Buckner and Iván DeJesús to Chicago. He then helped the Dodgers win National League pennants in ’77 and ’78.
What Happened To The Protestors?
The 1970s were a crazy time in American history. The Vietnam War raged on into the mid-1970s and protests swept the country during this era, so this act wasn’t as wild as it might be today.
As for the father, William Thomas, he and his son were each fined $60 for trespassing and put on probation.
Burning the American flag, or attempting to burn the flag, however, didn’t warrant any punishment because it is considered protected free speech under the First Amendment.
Where Is Rick Monday Now?
Robert James “Rick” Monday was born in Batesville, Arkansas, and played baseball at Santa Monica High School in California before earning a scholarship to Arizona State, where Barry Bonds would later star.
After 19 seasons in Major League Baseball, he began a career as a broadcaster. Monday now spends his time calling game for the Dodgers, an organization he’s been a broadcaster with for more than 25 seasons. The 74-year-old and his wife, Barbaralee, regularly visit veteran’s hospitals each year and live in Vero Beach, Florida, in the offseason.
Baseball and the United States are intertwined like no other sport. That’s why it’s called America’s Pastime. We’ve seen George W. Bush’s 2001 World Series first pitch heal the nation. Sammy Sosa memorably sprinted across the outfield waving an American flag.
But Rick Monday’s heroic act deserves its own spot in American history.