Monday put the pedal to the metal at Dodger Stadium. He ran right by the flag desecraters, swiping the flag as he passed them. After Monday had snatched the flag, one of the men hurled a can of lighter fluid at the newly crowned baseball legend.
Match Lit, But Never Burned
How many of us are over 35 years old, and remember watching centerfielder Rick Monday’s unbelievable feat in the outfield. At Dodger Stadium, in Los Angeles on April 25, 1976, two protesters ran into left-center field and tried to set fire to an American flag after the start of the bottom of the 4th inning. The flag was doused with lighter fluid, and one of the protesters tried to light the flag on the ground. The match went out, so he lit another match for a fire. “I could feel and smell the lighter fluid,” Monday remembers. “They’d doused it.”
Monday had been tossing a practice ball with left fielder José Cardenal before the incident happened. After Steve Stone of the Cubs threw a pitch making Ted Sizemore fly out, Monday dashed over and grabbed the flag to thunderous cheers. Monday ran through the infield with the flag, and while walking towards the Dodger’s dugout handed the flag to the Dodgers’ pitcher. Police officers arrested the two intruders off the field. When Monday came to bat in the 5th inning, he got a standing ovation from the crowd and the message board in the stadium flashed the message, “RICK MONDAY… YOU MADE A GREAT PLAY…”
Later he said, “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.” Monday had served with the Marine Corps Reserve. The National Pastime website still highlights the “Greatest Play in Baseball,” featuring then-Cubs outfielder Rick Monday.
Monday’s most outstanding accomplishment in his playing career was his domination of pitcher Tom Seaver, arguably the best of his generation. Monday hit 11 home runs against Seaver, more than any other player, and batted 349 against Seaver pitching to him.
Monday Goes Into Overdrive with 25,000 Watching
Initially, Monday wasn’t sure what was happening, but then he saw the two men unfold the flag and kneel over it, instincts went into overdrive.
With the bright sunshine that day, he saw the reflection of a can of lighter fluid. At that point, he immediately knew the men’s intent and sprang into action, sprinting to left-field to make sure the flag wasn’t desecrated. He grabbed it and raced off towards the dugout. On his way, then-Dodgers third-base coach Tommy Lasorda passed him heading in the other direction toward the two men. “Tommy was screaming every expletive you can imagine at those guys,” said Monday.
Dodger Stadium erupted in applause, the memory of the roar giving Monday goose bumps to this day.
Baseball is a game of spectacular plays. Everyone remembers that ‘triple’ play with the bases loaded. The leap over the second baseman instead of sliding, to touch second base safely. The batter who hits 14 straight fouls with a full-count, and then finally hits fair and gets on base. The batter who slams a home run completely out of the stadium with the bases loaded. The pitcher who gets a no-hitter with only twenty-seven pitches thrown in a 9–inning game. Super feats, for sure.
40 years ago on April 25, 1976, the game between the Chicago Cubs and the Los Angeles Dodgers was played before 25,167 people at Dodger Stadium. They got their money’s worth. The Dodgers beat the Cubs 5-4 in 10 innings on a walk-off single by Dodgers’ third baseman Ron Cey (a.k.a. The Penguin).
Although the Dodgers won the game, the player of the game was Cubs center-fielder Rick Monday. Batting leadoff for the Cubs, Monday went 3 for 5, scoring two runs and driving in the game-tying run in the 8th inning.
But nobody will forget the day Rick Monday ran out into the field, snatched a soaked flag with lighter fluid, and forgot about what 30 thousand fans thought about it. He did not even think of possible physical conflict with the two protestors, nor any guns nor weapons to stop his incursion.
As for Monday, he would have a banner year in 1976 attaining a career high 32 home runs and 77 RBIs. But saving the flag was his greatest play of the season.
As Monday recalled in an old video posted on You Tube marking the 30th anniversary, he was running toward the two men when the wind blew out the flame from the first match. That gave him time to sweep in from behind and fetch the flag.
Shortly the scoreboard displayed the message, “Rick Monday, You Made A Great Play,” and the fans rose and sang, “God, Bless America.”
It’s been called the greatest non-baseball play on a baseball field.