April 25, 1976: Rick Monday’s ‘great play’ saves American flag at Dodger Stadium
The Chicago Cubs’ center fielder played well on April 25, 1976. He collected three hits, scored two runs, and drove in another. His efforts helped the Cubs to rally from a three-run deficit and tie the game, even if they did not prevent a 5-4 loss to the Los Angeles Dodgers in 10 innings.
But his greatest “play” on this Sunday afternoon won the hearts of 25,167 opposing Dodger fans, as well as millions of others who read about it in the next day’s newspapers. In the middle of the fourth inning, the Cubs’ Rick Monday made a career-best “putout.” Though it didn’t appear in the box score, Monday’s saving grab stayed with him for the rest of his life.1
The Bicentennial season was less than three weeks old when the Dodgers hosted the Cubs in the finale of a three-game weekend series at Dodger Stadium.2 The early innings gave little indication that anything especially memorable was in store. Right-hander Rick Rhoden started for the Dodgers and set down the Cubs in order in the first inning. In the second, he allowed a one-out walk to Andre Thornton and a single by Manny Trillo but stranded both runners.
Cubs righty Steve Stone started strong, retiring the first five Dodgers before his shoulder tightened.3 He left the game with two outs in the second inning and right-hander Ken Crosby got the third out.4
Monday laid down a one-out bunt single in the Cubs’ third. After taking second on José Cardenal’s groundout, he opened the scoring on Bill Madlock’s line-drive single.
Crosby held the Dodgers in check in the third. Though Bill Russell reached on a bad throw by shortstop Dave Rosello, Crosby struck out Bill Buckner to end the threat.
The Cubs failed to score in the fourth. While warming up before the Dodgers batted in the bottom of the inning, Monday noticed two intruders lurking in shallow left field. “I had seen the two guys jump the fence and run on the field and I thought they were going to shake hands with [left fielder] José [Cardenal].”5
As they headed toward center, Cardenal noticed one of them fumbling with something in his pocket. “I thought he might have a knife or a gun. You never know with those crazy people. And they were high on dope, really doped out.”6
Monday noticed the older one spreading out an American flag like a picnic blanket. With their backs to him, Monday edged closer to the pair. He soon smelled lighter fluid being poured on the flag.
Monday planned to knock them over. But when the wind blew out the first match, he got close enough to snatch the drenched flag before the second match could be lit. The would-be fire bug failed miserably in trying to hit Monday with an awkward toss of the empty can.
Monday handed the flag to Dodgers pitcher Doug Rau. The fans, stunned at first, instinctively reacted to the organist and began to sing “God Bless America.”7
When play resumed, Crosby retired the first two batters, and then the Dodgers’ dormant bats erupted. Steve Garvey singled and stole second, and Ron Cey walked.
Henry Cruz was in center field for the Dodgers while Dusty Baker rested a sore hamstring.8 Cruz provided two-out lightning with a shot to right field, eight rows deep, for a three-run homer, his first in the majors. After the game, Cruz sighed, “I wish I could get the ball back and keep it forever. My wife just got here from Puerto Rico … and I dedicated the home run to her.”9
Steve Yeager followed with a single and a stolen base. Russell singled to center to drive him home for a 4-1 lead.
The Cubs began their comeback when Pete LaCock opened the fifth inning with a home run, pinch-hitting for Crosby.10
Monday batted next, and the fans roared with a standing ovation. The scoreboard then read, “Rick Monday … you made a great play!”11
After the ovation faded, Monday singled. Cardenal drew a walk, giving the Cubs two on with no outs. Rhoden retired Madlock and Jerry Morales, but Thornton made it 4-3 as he singled Monday home. Trillo walked to load the bases, but Cey turned Steve Swisher’s grounder into an unassisted force at third, and the Dodgers held on to their one-run lead.
Right-hander Oscar Zamora relieved Crosby and kept the game close with three scoreless innings. Rhoden shut down the Cubs in the sixth, but when Cardenal walked to open the seventh, Dodgers manager Walter Alston made a double switch.12 Catcher Joe Ferguson replaced Rhoden and batted ninth while right-hander Mike Marshall replaced Yeager and batted seventh.
After Madlock greeted Marshall with a single, the Cubs tested the Dodgers’ new catcher. Cardenal took off on a steal of third, and Madlock made a delayed dash to second. Ferguson met the challenge, throwing to second to trap Madlock in a rundown for the first out. Marshall then fanned Morales and Thornton to strand Cardenal at third.
Marshall returned for the eighth, and Trillo led off with a double. Cubs manager Jim Marshall called for a sacrifice, but Mike Marshall fielded Swisher’s bunt and threw Trillo out at third. After a walk to Rosello pushed Swisher into scoring position, Jim Marshall went to his bench, pinch-hitting Champ Summers for Zamora and sending in Joe Wallis to run for the slower Swisher.
Chicago’s bad luck with tactical moves continued, as Summers struck out. But Monday connected on his third single, and Wallis’s fresh legs carried him home from second, tying the game, 4-4.
Right-hander Mike Garman relieved Zamora in the eighth.13 After a double, a wild pitch, and a walk, the Dodgers had runners on first and third with no outs. It was their first serious scoring threat since the four-run fifth, but they could not push a run across. Garvey and Cey popped up. After an intentional walk to Cruz loaded the bases, Ed Goodson, batting for Marshall, grounded out to second baseman Sizemore.
Knuckleballer Charlie Hough replaced Marshall to pitch the ninth. After yielding an infield single to Madlock, he retired Morales, Thornton, and Trillo in order. Garman pitched a quiet bottom half, sandwiching a fly ball between two groundouts.
Hough and Garman remained in the game for the 10th. Hough got the Cubs out quickly in the top of the frame. But Garman cracked in his third inning of relief. Sizemore reached when first baseman Thornton bobbled Rosello’s throw for an error. John Hale sacrificed Sizemore to second.
The Cubs walked Garvey intentionally, but Cey’s single scored Sizemore for a 5-4 walk-off Dodgers win. Los Angeles had the second win of what turned out to be a 12-game winning streak.
Afterward the biggest headlines belonged to Monday. He had served as a Marine reservist for six years, and the American flag meant much to him. An agitated Monday declared, “If he’s going to burn a flag, he better do it in front of somebody who doesn’t appreciate it. I’ve visited enough veterans hospitals and seen enough guys with their legs blown off defending the flag.”14
Many questions about the two intruders remain unanswered. Discrepancies in basic facts—such as their names, ages, where they were from, and what sentence the older man received—riddled coverage of the game and its aftermath.15 The historical record is inconclusive on what was being protested, but speculation has included treatment of Indigenous people, the Vietnam War, and the older man’s wife’s experience in a mental institution.16
Immediately after the incident, no journalist interviewed the intruders to sort out the confusion. Years later, journalist David Davis located both, but father and son refused to discuss it. “I’m not interested in reliving that time period,” the son told Davis. “I don’t see any good from rehashing that situation. I don’t feel it necessary to go over this.”17
A famous photo captures Monday’s celebrated moment. Los Angeles Herald-Examiner photographer James Roark snapped the image of the flag rescue.18 It remains a prominent reminder of the post-Vietnam years; it received a Pulitzer Prize nomination.19 Monday soon began to receive invitations to be an honored guest at patriotic functions, and continued to receive them in the decades since. He often tours the events with Roark’s iconic snapshot and the original flag given to him by Dodgers general manager Al Campanis.20
Campanis had often tried to land Monday in a trade, and finally dealt for him in January 1977.21 Perhaps gifting Monday the flag and appreciation by the Dodgers fans helped. Regardless, Monday earned his second All-Star berth that year. He spent the last eight seasons of his career with the Dodgers, contributing to four NL West crowns, three pennants, and a World Series championship. His biggest hit came in the last game of the 1981 NLCS. His tie-breaking ninth-inning home run shocked the Montreal Expos and propelled the Dodgers to the World Series. To this day, Expos fans call that game Blue Monday.22
In 2006 the Baseball Hall of Fame voted Monday’s flag rescue among the 100 classic moments in baseball history.23 Whether speaking at a VFW post, waving in a Memorial Day parade, or answering a war veteran’s letter, Monday will remain best known for his patriotic act more than any highlight from his 19-year career. As his teammate Cardenal affirmed, “Now we’ve got three great patriots. George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, and Rick Monday.”24
This article was fact-checked by Kevin Larkin and copy-edited by Len Levin.
In addition to the sources cited in the Notes, the author consulted Baseball-Reference.com and Retrosheet.org for pertinent information, including the box score and play-by-play
1 In 1965 Monday was the first player selected in baseball’s first-ever amateur player draft.
2 As it happened, both teams had already been involved in notable games. Los Angeles’ Tommy John had returned to the mound on April 16, 19 months after undergoing a first-of-its-kind elbow surgery. On April 17, Chicago had lost a historic slugfest to the Philadelphia Phillies, victimized by Mike Schmidt’s four home runs.
3 Paul Hagen, “Cancel the Funeral—Dodgers Win in 10, 5-4,” San Bernardino County (California) Sun, April 26, 1976: 23.
4 This game was the 11th of only 16 major-league games Crosby pitched over two seasons.
5 Rick Young, “Patriotism Lives,” Alabama Journal (Montgomery, Alabama), June 22, 1976: 10.
6 Associated Press, “Monday’s ‘Great Play’ Saves Flag. Burns Would-Be Firebugs,” San Bernardino County Sun, April 26, 1976: 23.
7 Kathy Boccella, “Honoring Move to Save Flag from Desecration,” Philadelphia Inquirer, August 26, 2008: B7.
8 Don Bradley, “Dodgers Enjoy Winning Streak,” Pomona (California) Progress Bulletin, April 26, 1976: 16.
10 LaCock was the son of Ralph Pierre LaCock, better known as Peter Marshall, the host of the Hollywood Squares game show from 1966 to 1981.
11 Associated Press, “Monday: ‘I Wasn’t Trying to Be a Hero,’” Dayton (Ohio) Journal Herald, April 28, 1976: 5.
12 Alston soon announced his retirement after this season. Tommy Lasorda replaced him.
13 Garman followed Monday to the Dodgers when both were traded by the Cubs for Bill Buckner, Ivan DeJesus, and minor leaguer Jeff Albert.
14 United Press International, “Monday Saluted,” Moline (Illinois) Dispatch, April 27, 1976: 18.
15 The intruders were an unemployed father and his unnamed juvenile son. Discrepancies among sources included the name of the father (William Errol Thomas or William Morris), the age of both (father as 35 or 37 years old, the son as 11 or 15), and where they lived (Eldon, Missouri, or Old Town, Maine). United Press International, “Cubs’ Monday Is a Hero,” Holland (Michigan) Evening Sentinel, April 28, 1976: 3.
16 David Davis, “When Rick Monday Saved the American Flag from Being Burned at Dodger Stadium,” VICE Sports, April 25, 2016. https://www.vice.com/en/article/3dgq4b/when-rick-monday-saved-the-american-flag-from-being-burned-at-dodger-stadium.
18 Roark died in 1995 from injuries he received from a beating by four men while walking home from a Portland restaurant.
19 Bob Baum, “Man, Beaten to Death, Travelled Social Spectrum,” Iola (Kansas) Register. October 21, 1995: 1.
20 Dave Daniel, “Monday Has His Day Again,” Santa Monica-Southside Advertiser and Penny Pincher, May 6, 1976: 11.
21 Associated Press, “Dodgers Get Rick Monday From Chicago. Ironwood (Michigan) Daily Globe, January 12, 1977: 16; Associated Press, “Buckner Traded to Cubs,” San Bernardino County Sun, January 12, 1977: 47.
22 David Leon Moore, “Dodgers, Monday Leave the Expos Feeling Blue, 2-1,” San Bernardino County Sun, October 20, 1981: 44.
23 Kathy Boccella, “Honoring Move to Save Flag from Desecration.”
24 William H. Weldon, “America’s New Hero,” Jefferson City (Missouri) Daily Capital News, April 29, 1976: 4.
Los Angeles Dodgers 5
Chicago Cubs 4
Los Angeles, CA
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