By JOE RESNICK
The Associated Press
Saturday, April 22, 2006; 8:59 PM
LOS ANGELES -- Rick Monday never tires of answering questions about that memorable day 30 years ago, when he performed his own Patriot Act and unwittingly became an icon to millions of American war heroes and their loved ones.
Monday was playing center field for the Chicago Cubs on April 25, 1976, at Dodger Stadium when he noticed two protesters kneeling on the grass in left-center, intending to burn the American flag. He immediately bolted toward them and snatched it away.
"I was angry when I saw them start to do something to the flag, and I'm glad that I happened to be geographically close enough to do something about it," said Monday, now in his 13th season as a Dodgers broadcaster.
"What those people were doing, and their concept of what they were trying to do was wrong. That feeling was very strongly reinforced by six years in the United States Marine Corps Reserves. I still think it's wrong to do that."
The Dodgers will acknowledge the event before the finale of a nine-game homestand on Sunday, two days before the actual anniversary of it. A video tribute will be shown before the game and Monday will throw out a ceremonial first pitch. On Tuesday, the Houston Astros will honor him as well when the Dodgers play the middle game of a three-game series.
Back in '76, Monday was presented with the flag in a ceremony at Wrigley Field by Dodgers executive Al Campanis. It hung in his home in Vero Beach, Fla., until a couple of years ago, when the house sustained severe damage from a hurricane. Now it's in a safety deposit box.
Monday wouldn't say how much the flag is insured for, but "you'd have to add a lot of zeros. People have offered an outrageous amount of money for it _ not that it's for sale."
The Baseball Hall of Fame recently named Monday's quick-thinking act as one of the 100 Classic Moments in the history of the game.
"Whatever their protest was about, what they were attempting to do to the flag _ which represents a lot of rights and freedoms that we all have _ was wrong for a lot of reasons," Monday said. "Not only does it desecrate the flag, but it also desecrates the effort and the lives that have been laid down to protect those rights and freedoms for all of us."
In Peter Golenbock's 1996 book, "Wrigleyville: A Magical History Tour of the Chicago Cubs," former Cubs reliever Darold Knowles recalled what happened in the aftermath of Monday's flag-saving effort.
"That put Rick on the map," said Knowles, a teammate of Monday's for two seasons in Chicago and one in Oakland. "Rick got more recognition out of the flag incident than he got as a player. He was getting letters from all over the country, all the time _ from VFWs (Veterans of Foreign Wars) and American Legions organizations. Every place we'd go, somebody would honor him with a plaque. He let us read some of the letters (from) people thanking him."
Along with the flag, Monday has a copy of the 16-mm footage taken by a fan who was at the game, as well as Dodgers broadcaster Vin Scully's play-by-play of the incident. Also among his souvenirs is a copy of the now-famous photo by James Roarke of Monday just as he grabbed the flag.
Monday hit a career-high 32 home runs that season before the Dodgers acquired him from the Cubs with reliever Mike Garman, in exchange for outfielder Bill Buckner and backup shortstop Ivan DeJesus. Monday spent the final eight seasons of his career with Los Angeles, helping the Dodgers win three pennants in a five-year span.
He was the first player chosen in the very first draft back in 1965 after leading Arizona State to a College World Series title. The two-time All-Star put up some impressive numbers during his 19 major league seasons. His ninth-inning home run in the fifth and deciding game of the 1981 NL Championship Series at Montreal catapulted the Dodgers into the World Series, where they beat the Yankees in six games.
But all of that pales in comparison to Monday's most famous achievement in a baseball uniform.
"I know the people were very pleased to see Monday take the flag away from those guys," recalled Manny Mota, Monday's teammate that season and now a Dodgers coach. "I know Rick has done a lot of good things as a player and as a person. But what he did for his country, he will be remembered for the rest of his life as an American hero."