It was a warm April day at Dodger Stadium, the first inning about to begin, when the Chicago Cubs centerfielder first noticed the duo. Two men, one much younger than the other, in the outfield at the stadium. Security was nonexistent then, back in 1976, when Morganna the Kissing Bandit reigned supreme and baseball was to a large extent a game experiencing many odd and amateurish changes.
But the centerfielder's nonchalant approach to the intruders changed when he saw what they had done. Spreading a tattered American flag like a picnic blanket across the grass near the warning track, they proceeded to douse it in lighter fluid. The older man flicked a match, threw it on the flag. For some reason the flag didn't catch.
The player's instincts kicked in. He raced over and in one clean swoop, reached down and snatched the flag from certain incineration (with Dodgers third base coach Tommy Lasorda in hot pursuit of the vandals.) He continued his run all the way to the Dodgers dugout, handing off the flag to the Los Angeles pitching coach, and then returning to the edge of the field, watching as police finally came on the scene to remove the (now criminal) trespassers. In response, the crowd spontaneously broke into God Bless America.
It was later revealed that the two men were father and son, and were protesting their wife/mother's involuntary incarceration in a Missouri insane aslyum. They were fined $60 for the infraction and released.
The hero of our story was, of course, the titular Rick Monday. When asked about the event, Rick simply said, "what they were doing was wrong," and left it at that. Later during the game, the Dodger scoreboard flashed: "Thank you Rick Monday. You made a great play." The day after his flag-saving efforts, Chicago mayor Richard Daley proudly declared that the Illinois state legislature had declared May 4th to be "Rick Monday Day."
When Rick Monday Day arrived, only 5,000 people showed up at Wrigley Field, where the tables had turned and the Cubs now played host to the Dodgers. Dodgers GM Al Campanis had filed several special requests to have the flag from the incident removed from the LAPD evidence room, and before the game he presented it to Monday along with a plaque from Major League Baseball.
Thirty years later, Monday is more remembered for his dash to save the flag than his 241 homers and 20 years in professional baseball. In a nice twist, he was eventually traded to the Dodgers and currently resides in their broadcast booth. The flag sits in a safety deposit box near his home in Florida, and Monday refuses to sell it despite many attractive offers.
Happy Rick Monday Day!