35 Years Ago Today, Rick Monday Made the Greatest Play in Baseball History By Saving the U.S. Flag
Two protesters, William Thomas and his 11-year-old son, stormed the field with an American flag. They threw it on the ground in shallow left-center field, kneeling over it with matches and lighter fluid, preparing to interrupt the game by burning Old Glory. Later, Monday recalled, “I figured having gone to college, two and two is sometimes four. They were dousing it with lighter fluid.” During the game's radio broadcast, Dodgers announcer Vin Scully said, “Wait a minute, there's an animal loose. Two of them! I'm not sure what he's doing out there. It looks like he's going to burn a flag…”
Angry and reacting on pure patriotic instinct, the center fielder, who served six years in the Marine Reserves, sprinted towards them and snatched away the flag before they could drop a second match to set it ablaze. The crowd went wild, the protesters were escorted off the field, the crowd spontaneously broke out in “God Bless America,” and, from that moment on, Rick Monday went down in American history books as an American folk hero. Afterward, he told the press, “If you’re going to burn the flag, don’t do it around me. I’ve been to too many veterans’ hospitals and seen too many broken bodies of guys who tried to protect it.” Let's relive one of the greatest moments in baseball history after the jump.
Five years ago, during the 30th anniversy of the play, Hall of Fame manager Tom Lasorda called it, “the greatest heroic act that's ever happened on a baseball field,” adding, “He protected the symbol of everything that we live for. And the symbol that we live in the greatest country in the world.” Here's how Monday reflected on the incident to the Washington Post:
“I was angry when I saw them start to do something to the flag, and I'm glad that I happened to be geographically close enough to do something about it. What those people were doing, and their concept of what they were trying to do was wrong. That feeling was very strongly reinforced by six years in the United States Marine Corps Reserves. I still think it's wrong to do that.”
Later in the year the Dodgers presented Monday with the flag that he saved. The '76 season ended up being Monday's career best with 32 home runs and 77 RBIs. He now works on the Dodger's broadcast team. Here's what he told Chicago Now's Bob Vorwald over the weekend while commemorating the 35th anniversary:
When I think back to that moment, I was in center field in the middle of the fourth inning and I saw out of the corner of my eye two people coming on the field. When that happens, you really don't know. Are they there on a bet? Are they coming out because they don't like you? I saw that one of them had something under his arm. They ran past Jose Cardenal, who was in left field, and went to shallow left-center. I saw one guy take out what looked to be an American flag and almost spread it out as if it was going to be a picnic blanket. I saw the reflection on the sun off the can and it looked like lighter fluid that they were dousing it with. It was windy at Dodger Stadium and the wind blew their first match out. The second match was lit and that's when I arrived. To this day, I don't know what was going through my mind, except that what they were doing was wrong. I scooped the flag up, and fortunately it was not on fire. The guy threw the can of lighter fluid at me, but he wasn't a prospect and he missed.
I gave the flag to Doug Rau, a pitcher came out of the Dodger dugout. Tommy Lasorda was coaching third base and ran by me and was livid as well. For an instant, I was thinking if I should bowl those guys over, but I just scooped the flag up. I'm very happy there was no violence involved and no one was hurt. I'm proud of the fact that I was able to stop them, but you don't think about the possible consequences at the time.
It stays fresh in my memory because of the number of pieces of mail I receive and the anniversary rolls around each April. That flag is in my home. I still look at the flag and the pictures and what has not changed is that I felt then as I do now that what those two people were trying to do was wrong.
I feel honored and proud when I am asked about the flag, not because I stopped two people from burning the flag that afternoon in Los Angeles, but because it represents a lot of rights and freedoms. A lot of years have gone by, but it's still important enough that people still discuss. That flag is still a part of my life and my wife and I have been blessed to be able to take it around the country and raise a lot of money for charities. It's meant a lot to me. I spent six years in the Marine Corps Reserve and I met a lot of people who gave a whole lot more than just the time that I spent. That flag represents a lot to be proud of. This is a wonderful country and it can be better if we want to try.
It was a moment that transcended sports and the game of baseball. Remember to raise your glasses and toast Rick Monday tonight for protecting the sanctity of the Stars and Stripes.