Monday saving flag resonates 40 years later

Former outfielder prevented protesters from burning Old Glory in 1976

April 24th, 2016

DENVER -- Rick Monday played 19 seasons in the big leagues, made two All-Star squads, appeared in the World Series two times and was a member of the Dodgers' 1981 World Series championship team. He was the first player selected in the first Draft in June 1965.

And Monday is best known for saving an American flag from being burned by two protesters on the outfield grass during a game at Dodger Stadium 40 years ago on Monday.

Monday wouldn't have it any other way.

"What happened in my playing career will take care of itself," said Monday. "The flag represents the rights and freedoms we all enjoy in this country."

To recognize the action he took 40 years ago, when he was a member of the visiting Cubs, Monday will be recognized on the field at Dodger Stadium prior to Monday night's game against the Marlins during a ceremony in which the very flag that Monday saved will be displayed for the fans.

"The irony is the flag that they attempted to desecrate that afternoon is something my wife and I have taken across the country and have used to raise more than $500,000 for military charities," Monday said.

In the aftermath of the incident, Monday requested that he be allowed to keep the flag. Once the court proceedings against the protesters were completed -- resulting in them being fined $80 apiece and placed on two years of probation -- Monday received the flag.

"We do have security, because there are two groups who are still trying to get hold of the flag for a demonstration," said Monday. "We take ample precautions wherever we go."

This week, the flag will be in Los Angeles on Monday night and then Tempe, Ariz., on Tuesday, where Arizona State, Monday's alma mater, will honor him during a ceremony prior to a game against archrival Arizona by unveiling a commemorative patch that will be worn on the Sun Devils' uniform.

Who would have thought that that late April afternoon in 1976 would have such a profound impact on Monday's life? While he spent his final eight seasons playing with the Dodgers and is now a member of L.A.'s broadcast team, back then, Monday was playing center field with the Cubs.

Just as the fourth inning began, two guys jumped over the left-field fence.

"You don't know what's going to happen. Is it because they had too much to drink. Did they have a bet?" said Monday. "All you know is something isn't right. Then I saw one of them had something cradled under his arm, which was the American flag."

The next thing Monday knew, the two stopped in left-center field, unfurled the flag, took a can of lighter fluid out and doused the flag.

"What I knew was what they were doing was wrong then, and it's wrong today," said Monday. "I had a lot of friends who lost their lives protecting the rights and freedoms that flag represented. I'm not sure what I was thinking, except I was angry and I started to run after them."

The initial effort to burn the flag failed when the wind blew out the match. Just as Monday arrived, the men lit a second match.

"They were going to put the match to the flag, and it was soaked in lighter fluid," remember Monday. "My attitude was if they don't have it, they can't light it, so I scooped the flag up and kept running. I didn't know if it was on fire or not, but I did know one of the guys was not a [baseball prospect]. He threw the can of lighter fluid at me, but he didn't have a good enough arm to hit me."

Monday said the crowd suddenly began to sing "God Bless America."

"I still get goose bumps," he said. "The crowd reaction was rewarding. The fans made it clear they had a total dislike for what those guys were trying to do. The crowd reaction was inspiring."

Why did Monday do what he did? He can't say for sure. It was reaction, not a thought-out plan.

"It is the way I was raised growing up in Santa Monica, [Calif.], and it was reinforced by my six years in the Marine Reserves," he said. "Maybe I was thinking about the drill instructors from boot camp. I didn't want any of them saying, 'Marine, why did you stand by and watch those guys burn that American flag?'"

It is a question Monday never had to answer.

And it is a moment that today means as much to Monday as it did 40 years ago -- maybe even more.

"What is refreshing to me," said Monday, "is the reaction that we have in this country to our military and what the military has done to protect us and our freedom."