Monday, April 26, 2010

Lincoln, Washington, and Monday


     As the United States prepared to mark its Bicentennial, most Americans were not in a particularly celebratory mood, their confidence having been shaken by the Vietnam War, the Watergate scandal, the energy crisis, and other recent reversals. Then, a strange thing happened to cheer everyone up.
     It was April 25, 1976, and the Cubs were playing the Dodgers in Los Angeles. A man and his son climbed out of the stands and onto the field. “One of them had an American flag tucked under his arm,” recalled Rick Monday, who was watching the pair from his vantage point as the Cubs’ center fielder. The two went to a spot in left-center field, about halfway between Monday and left fielder Jose Cardenal, where the older man spread the flag out on the grass and began to sprinkle lighter fluid over it.
     “The next thing I saw was the glint of the [lighter fluid] can,” said Monday. “I figured it wasn’t holy water. That’s when I took off. They couldn’t see me coming from behind but I could see one had lit a match. The wind blew it out, and just as they lit another and were about to touch it to the flag, I grabbed [the flag].”
     Monday scooped up Old Glory just before it would have been set afire. He sprinted to the left-field bullpen and handed the flag over to Los Angeles pitcher Doug Rau. As the fans in the ballpark realized what had happened, they rose to give Monday a standing ovation. The Dodger Stadium message board flashed, “RICK MONDAY, YOU MADE A GREAT PLAY.”
     The would-be flag burners were arrested and charged with trespassing. “If you're going to burn the flag,” Monday later said, “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.”
     In the following weeks, ceremonies honoring Monday were held in every city the Cubs visited. Jose Cardenal, who'd witnessed the attempting flag burning up close, understood why Monday's actions had struck a chord. He had left his homeland of Cuba at the age of 17 in 1960, a year after it became a Communist dictatorship, never to return. Cardenal loved his adopted country and wasn't embarrassed to admit it. “Now we have three great patriots,” he said. “Lincoln, Washington, and Monday.”

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