This month’s “C” word has been CHARACTER. You could say it’s the “C” flagship of what we do as a foundation, and how we all want to act. In the CYITML lexicon, traits of CHARACTER: Applies moral principles; Learns from mistakes; Accepts responsibility; and Respects individuals. There aren’t many instances in Major League Baseball history that speak to CHARACTER better than what happened 42 years ago this week, on April 25, 1976. That’s the day that former major-league outfielder Rick Monday had one of the best plays in the history of baseball. And it didn’t involve a bat or a ball or a glove. The following is a reprint of an article written in 2006 for Metro Sports about that incredible moment. The article has been tweaked for clarification.
It takes courage to do what’s right. And, of course, character.
That lesson’s tough for most of us. Sure, we know what we believe to be right or wrong, but we don’t always have the guts to act upon it. That lesson was reinforced to me earlier this week, on a memory that’s because of former major-league outfielder Rick Monday.
Really, we all owe Monday a thanks for something he did in the year of our country’s Bicentennial.
As any long-time baseball player will say, each ballpark has a unique feeling. Its own personality. One pitch into the bottom of the fourth inning at Dodger Stadium on April 25, 1976, Monday, playing centerfield for the Chicago Cubs, realized the stadium’s “breathing pattern got out of sync.” He heard a commotion from the left-field corner.
When Monday looked over, he saw two guys running toward left-center. One of them had something under his arm. They stopped and spread the item on the ground as if they were preparing a picnic. One of the two guys then took out a shiny can of a liquid and started squirting it onto the piece of cloth.
Monday immediately realized that the item on the ground was the American flag. The liquid doused onto the flag turned out to be lighter fluid.
“At that moment I was mad,” said Monday. He then did what he thought was the right thing to do. He started running toward them to put a stop to it. One of the guys lit a match, but the wind blew it out. Then, he lit a second one.
“I don’t know what I was thinking, if I was thinking about trying to bowl them over, or what,” Monday says. “I was close enough, though, that I remember thinking, ‘They can’t burn it if they don’t have it.’ So, I reached down and grabbed the flag.”
When you look at the photograph (above) or the video that’s circulating on the Internet, you’ll notice that Monday’s timing was so incredible that the person with the second match proceeded to put the match to the ground, thinking the flag was still there.
Monday ran toward the Dodgers’ dugout, passing then-Dodger third-base coach Tommy Lasorda, who was shouting every obscenity known to man.
“I told Tommy, ‘What you were yelling would make a longshoreman blush,’” Monday, who was a broadcaster for the Dodgers at the time, told me by phone.
After the crowd of nearly 40,000 that Sunday afternoon began to boo the two guys for their despicable act and then cheer as security escorted the two off the field, the stadium grew quiet for a moment. Then, Monday received proof that he’d done the right thing.
“Without any prompting at all, without the organ starting, without anything being put on the diamond vision,” remembers Monday, “one section of the stadium and then another and then another, began to sing ‘God Bless America.’ When those people reacted that way, it brought goose bumps, and it still does when I reflect upon it.”
Rick Monday, who started a six-year stint in the Marine Corps Reserves in 1965, still sees the respect and admiration for the flag and all that it stands for.
That was especially true during the trip to Washington (in 2006), when he took the flag to Walter Reed Hospital and met with several soldiers recovering from various wounds suffered in combat. As a major who had undergone 13 surgeries held the flag, Monday described, his knuckles began to bleed. His body was rejecting more shrapnel.
He turned to the doctor and chuckled, “Doc, of all the times for shrapnel to come out of my hand.”
He then looked at Monday’s wife and said, “Barbaralee, please take the flag; I don’t want to bleed on it.”
“If there’s ever been a human being that deserved the right to bleed on a flag,” Monday said, “it was this young man. But he held that flag in so much reverence that it made you want to cry.”
Monday, whom the Kansas City A’s drafted with the first-ever selection in the Major League draft in 1965, had a solid 19-year big-league career. He played in nearly 2,000 games, compiling 1,619 hits and 775 RBIs.
After posting what turned out be career highs in home runs (32) and RBIs (77) with Chicago in 1976, the Cubs traded Monday to the Dodgers, where he played the next eight seasons as an outfielder for Lasorda, who took over as manager in ’77. In 1981, his solo homer with two outs in the top of the ninth against Montreal, sent the Dodgers to the World Series.
Despite the numbers, Monday says that if fans mainly remember him for saving the flag, instead of a game-winning hit or a great catch or a long career, that’s just fine.
“It wouldn’t bother me if that’s what they remember,” said Monday, who receives letters every month from fans about that one moment, which the Baseball Hall of Fame voted as one of the 100 Classic Moments in the History of the Game. “It would bother me more if people asked, ‘Why didn’t you stop them?’”
Monday added that not only has he not had any communications with the two guys who tried to ignite the flag, but he’s never even wondered why they were attempting to do it. He says it’s not important. It was wrong, “regardless of the message.”
When it comes to that April day more than 40 years ago Monday quickly points out that, even though he’s not a fan of the recognition he’s received, he’d do the same thing again.
“(The act) hasn’t changed me, but I have been embarrassed by the attention placed on me, because I didn’t do anything,” he says. “There isn’t anyone I know, fortunately, who wouldn’t have done the same thing. I am just honored to be able to maybe tell the story to someone who might stop for a moment and think about what’s right or wrong.
“And for someone to think that the reason we all have our rights and freedoms is that – to obviously greater extents than what I did in stopping two guys from burning a flag – somewhere along the line, someone has stopped to do the right thing.”