Flashback: Rick Monday Saves Old Glory, Makes Baseball's 'Greatest Play'

On April 25, 1976, in a year that was the country's bicentennial, no less, Rick Monday went into the history books by saving an American flag from being desecrated on the field at Chavez Ravine.

Monday, then playing center field for the Chicago Cubs at Dodger Stadium against Los Angeles, made what some have deemed the "greatest play" in baseball history when he snatched Old Glory from two fans who ran on the field with the intent to burn it. 

The moment is indelibly iconic, and Monday, who later played for the Dodgers and is now one of their announcers on radio broadcasts, gave an oral history of the event in 2006, on the 30th anniversary of the heroic moment, to MLB.com. In his words:

"When these two guys ran on the field, something wasn't right. And it wasn't right from the standpoint that one of them had something cradled under his arm. It turned out to be an American flag. They came from the left-field corner, went past Cardenal to shallow left-center field.

"That's when I saw the flag. They unfurled it as if it was a picnic blanket. They knelt beside it, not to pay homage but to harm it as one of the guys was pulling out of his pocket somewhere a big can of lighter fluid. He began to douse it.

"What they were doing was wrong then, in 1976. In my mind, it's wrong now, in 2006. It's the way I was raised. My thoughts were reinforced with my six years in the Marine Corp Reserves. It was also reinforced by a lot of friends who lost their lives protecting the rights and freedoms that flag represented.

"So I started to run after them. To this day, I couldn't tell you what was running through my mind except I was mad, I was angry and it was wrong for a lot of reasons.

"Then the wind blew the first match out. There was hardly ever any wind at Dodger Stadium. The second match was lit, just as I got there. I did think that if I could bowl them over, they can't do what they're trying to do.

"I saw them go and put the match down to the flag. It's soaked in lighter fluid at this time. Well, they can't light it if they don't have it. So I just scooped it up.

"My first thought was, 'Is this on fire?' Well, fortunately, it was not. I continue to run. One of the men threw the can of lighter fluid at me. We found out he was not a prospect. He did not have a good arm. Thank goodness.

[...]

"After the guys left, there was a buzz in the stands, people being aghast with what had taken place. Without being prompted, and I don't know where it started, but people began to sing 'God Bless America.' When I reflect back upon it now, I still get goose bumps."

"That means something, because this wasn't just a flag on the field. This was a flag that people looked at with respect.

[...]

"The letters I've received from that day have run the gamut of emotions. They've been from children who were not born yet and had only heard about it. They've been from Vietnam veterans, including one yesterday. This soldier wrote that there were two things that he had with him in two tours of Vietnam. These two things kept him in check with reality. One was a small picture of his wife. The other was a small American flag that was neatly folded. The picture was folded inside the flag and in the left breast pocket of his uniform.

"He would be in mud for weeks and months at a time. Those two things were what he looked at to connect him with reality, other than his buddies, and some of them were lost in battle. He wrote in the letter, 'Thanks for protecting what those of us who were in Vietnam held onto dearly.'

"That means something, because this wasn't just a flag on the field. This was a flag that people looked at with respect. We have a lot of rights and freedoms -- not to sound corny -- but we all have the option if we don't like something to make it better. Or you also have the option, if you don't like it, [to] pack up and leave. But don't come onto the field and burn an American flag."

Al Campanis gave the Monday the flag later in the year and the Dodgers announcer cherishes it in his home. 

 

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