In honor of the sacred 50th anniversary of our Beloved Dodger Stadium, I will be releasing my top ten moments of Dodger Stadium history. Currently the Dodgers are casting a special vote on what the top ten moments of the last 50 years at the Ravine are. These are my top ten however. Please note these are mine, and mine alone. These are the top ten moments according to me, a lifelong fanatical Dodger fan, who has grown up in southern California. There are so many memories it is almost too hard to choose just ten. I will count down each one per day, leading up to the Dodger’s Opening day game April 5th in San Diego. Each one of these moments will make you smile, laugh, and will bring chills down your spine. Some of them may even take your breath away. Without further adieu, I give you the number ten moment in Dodger Stadium history: Rick Monday saves the American flag at Dodger Stadium.
On April 25th, of 1976, the bicentennial year of our country, the Dodgers were playing an afternoon game against the Cubs during a three game set at Dodger Stadium. What made this moment all the more amazing was that it did not involve a Dodger at the time. No, Rick Monday was not a Dodger, but in fact was a center fielder for the Chicago Cubs. During Monday’s 19-year Major League Career, this is more than likely, his most remembered moment ever. This was the day that Rick Monday saved the American flag from burning at Dodger Stadium.
On this day in 1976, while Rick Monday was warming up in the visiting bullpen playing catch and stretching, two would be flag burners snuck onto the field at dodger stadium in left field. The two culprits were William Thomas and his 11-year old son. Monday, who was a center-fielder for the Cubs and later for the Dodgers, saw the man and his boy kneel onto the field while holding an American flag.
“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, who served in the Marine Corp Reserves with the ROTC after his days with Arizona State, saw the two flag burners and sprang into action like a hero. Tommy Lasorda had actually saw the two flag burners as well, and had ran out after them. Monday would get there first.
*video courtesy of newsbuster.org, and Blue Monday photos courtesy of bleacherreport.com*
Williams, and his boy doused the American flag with lighter fluid, before pulling out their box of matches. They attempted to strike the match, and light the American flag on fire in the middle of left field at Dodger Stadium.
“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
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.
The two flag burners tried to light the first match. Monday was right, there was very rarely ever any wind during the day at Dodger Stadium. It was Dodger Stadium itself that prevented the two burners from lighting the flag with that first match. The wind blew it out somehow, and W. Thomas had to reach for another match. There was no way Dodger Stadium would let an American flag be burned on its field. Further proof, that magic happens at Dodger Stadium.
Now it was up to Monday. As he ran up to the man and his son in left field, he reached down and swooped up the flag just in time as the two burners were about to light the flag on fire with that second match. Monday carried the flag all the way across the field, cradling it as he handed it to Dodger relief pitcher Doug Rau.
Tommy Lasorda who was the third base coach at the time, had this to say about the incident…..
“A lot of people don’t know this, but he beat me to the flag,” recalls Lasorda. “I saw Rick start running over from center field to left. I didn’t know what it was, but as soon as I saw him start, I took off and I ran out there, and of course, by that time, Rick had picked up the flag and continued running. When I got there, I see these two guys and I told them, ‘Why don’t one of you guys take a swing at me?’ because there were 50-something thousand people in the ballpark and I only wanted them to swing at me, so I could defend myself and do a job on them.
The two men were led off the field by Stadium security. They walked off the field through the Dodger Bullpen. The entire incident was photographed by James Roark, who was in the photographer’s well for the now defunct Los Angeles Herald Examiner. The game was not televised that day, so the photographs from Roark’s camera were some of the only images of the incident. Those pictures are the iconic images if Monday swooping down to grab the flag. Those images are forever one of the most memorable photos ever taken at Dodger Stadium. One of those photos was even nominated for the Pulitzer Prize.
During Rick Monday’s first at-bat during the game, Dodger fans gave him a standing ovation, as some fans sang God Bless America. The scoreboard put up the message below…..
Monday reflects back on the incident, that will forever be ingrained into our memories. As a former marine corp reserve, Monday looks back on the impact it had on other people, specifically American Veterans.
“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.
“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.”
Dodger fans continued to give him a standing ovation during each of his at-bats that day. Monday was traded to the Dodgers after the 1976 season. The trade involved former Dodger Bill Buckner and Ivan De Jesus Sr. Monday played for the Dodgers from 1977-1984. Monday had perhaps his best season in 1976. he hit a career high 32 home runs, scored 107 runs, and posted a solid .853 OPS.
Monday was relegated to a bench position during his second great Dodger moment. While the Dodgers were playing the Montreal Expos in Montreal in game 5 of the 1981 NLCS, Monday came to the plate with the score tied at 1-1 in the top of the 9th inning in that decisive game five. Monday hit a solo home run off of Montreal pitcher Steve Rogers, winning the game and the pennant for the Dodgers. Of course the Dodgers would go on to win the world series that year. Dodger fans will never forget Monday’s fist pumps in the air as he rounded the bases. The game was on a Monday ironically, and became known to Dodger fans, and heart-broken Expos fans everywhere as “Blue Monday”
Rick Monday would become a Dodger broadcaster, and still calls all games on radio for the Dodgers alongside Charley Steiner. Rick Monday simply put, is an American hero. Flag burning is disgusting and disrespectful. It disrespects all of the soldiers who put their life at risk and or have died protecting our freedoms and that flag. Rick Monday knew it, and he saved the American flag. Rick Monday not only saved the flag, but he also saved the pennant for the Dodgers a few years later.
Rick Monday, who is also a southern California native, has become a permanent fixture in the Dodger family. Rick Monday, Lasorda’s Lair salutes you, a forever Dodger hero in time.