Forty years ago, a Chicago Cubs center fielder won respect for an act that would be deemed by some as “the best play in baseball history.”
On April 25, 1976, Rick Monday became an American hero when he swooped in to save an American flag from being burned by protestors who had made their way to left center of Dodger Stadium.
Monday spotted a man and a male child kneeling in the grass on the field with an American flag spread out in front of them on the ground. When he noticed the matches in their hands and guessed their intentions, he took off in a dead-run toward them. What happened next is a part of iconic American history.
Monday said he considered just “bowling them over,” but saw that he could snatch the flag up and save it from its demise. “I was angry when I saw them start to do something to the flag,” said Monday, “and I’m glad that I happened to be geographically close enough to do something about it.”
Monday said he could feel the “coldness of the lighter fluid” on his skin, which signals what a heroic act this truly was. He says the first time the protestors lit the match, it was blown out by the wind, and they were in the process of attempting to light it a second time when he was able to swoop in and grab it.
The protestors, later identified as a man named William Errol Thomas and his 11-year-old son, were escorted off the field by security and the scoreboard read “RICK MONDAY, YOU MADE A GREAT PLAY.”
Monday, who is currently in his 25th season as a Dodgers broadcaster, was honored in 2016 for the event by throwing out the first pitch at a game at Dodger Stadium. He also received several honors over the years, such as mentions across most major media channels and an American flag that was presented to him in a ceremony on Wrigley Field the year he made the infamous play.
Monday said, “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.”
Monday’s act of heroism is reportedly listed in several books, including 100 Classic Moments in the History of the Game and In Peter Golenbock’s 1996 book, Wrigleyville: A Magical History Tour of the Chicago Cubs.
“Whatever their protest was about, what they were attempting to do to the flag – which represents a lot of rights and freedoms that we all have – was wrong for a lot of reasons,” Monday stated. “Not only does it desecrate the flag, but it also desecrates the effort and the lives that have been laid down to protect those rights and freedoms for all of us.”
Spectators in the stands started to stand to their feet from one end to the other, and a chorus of “God Bless America” emerged beautifully from the stands.
Monday says he “gets letters everyday” from everyone from retired military to kids who weren’t even born when it happened. He says he’s embarrassed by the attention he’s received, but that if you’re known for one thing in your life, that’s not a bad thing to be known for.