4/25/1976 - Monday saves the American flag

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(The famous photo of Monday. Photo by James Roark, Los Angeles Herald-Examiner)

On the 100th anniversary of their very first game, the Chicago Cubs were in Los Angeles to face the Dodgers. Before the Dodgers went to bat in the bottom of the fourth inning, two protesters ran onto the field and prepared to set fire to an American flag. That was when Cubs center fielder Rick Monday swooped in and picked up the flag, receiving a standing ovation from the crowd.

"If he's going to burn a flag, he better not do it in front of somebody who doesn't appreciate it," said Monday, who spent six years in the Marines. "I've visited enough veterans' hospitals and seen enough guys with their legs blown off defending that flag."

The flag rescue put Rick Monday on the map. May 4th was declared "Rick Monday Day" in Illinois, and he was suddenly relevant to the population outside the sports world. The image of him swiping the flag was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize and is still recognizable all these years later. Major League Baseball declared it one of the league's 100 greatest moments and in 2006, the U.S. Senate honored Monday for the thirtieth anniversary of the event.

Monday gave the flag to Dodgers pitcher Doug Rau before the game resumed. When LA made the trip to Wrigley Field a month later, Al Campanis presented the flag to Monday, who has owned it ever since. Monday was traded to the Dodgers later that year and remained in the organization as a radio broadcaster.

"From time to time, people ask, 'are you upset because you spent nineteen seasons in the major leagues and you're known for, primarily, stopping two people from burning the flag?' If that's all you're known for, that's not a bad thing at all."

In 1981, Monday again ventured into the spotlight. In Game 5 of the best-of-five NLCS, the Dodgers and Montreal Expos were tied 1-1 in the ninth inning. Monday belted a Steve Rodgers pitch over the outfield wall, stunning the Olympic Stadium crowd. Thanks to Rick's homer, the Dodgers won the game 2-1 and advanced to the World Series.

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(The two intruders. Photo courtesy of the Los Angeles Dodgers)

As for the protesters, they were identified as 37 year-old William Errol Thomas and his 11 year-old son. Thomas was arrested for trespassing and was given three days in jail and a year of probation. The man claimed he was protesting the mental incarceration of his wife, who was locked up in Missouri. That testimony and other information about him is rather uncertain. Many major publications have incorrectly identified him as "William Errol Morris," and no one knows if his claim was accurate or even where he lived after his arrest.

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