Tag Archives: 1976

Behind the Stats: Monday’s act of courage a lesson for all

*The following is an updated reprint. It appeared originally on Kansas City’s Metro Sports’ website in 2006.

It takes courage to do what’s right.

On Tuesday night, my wife and I tried explaining that to one of our kids. Avoiding peer pressure. Standing up for what you believe in. And so on. He seemed to understand. But, who could blame him if he didn’t?

That lesson’s tough for most of us. Sure, we know what we believe to be right or wrong, but we don’t always have the guts to act upon it.

That lesson gets reinforced for me whenever I think of former major-league outfielder Rick Monday because I can’t help but think of something he did on the field.

Really, we all owe Monday a hand-over-the-heart-salute of thanks for something he did more than 35 years ago today.

As any long-time baseball player will say, each ballpark has a unique feeling. Its own personality. One pitch into the bottom of the fourth inning at Dodger Stadium onApril 25, 1976, Monday, playing centerfield then for the Chicago Cubs, realized the stadium’s “breathing pattern got out of sync.” He heard a commotion from the left-field corner.

When Monday looked over, he saw two guys running toward left-center. One of them had something under his arm. They stopped and spread the item on the ground as if they were preparing a picnic. One of the two guys then took out a shiny can of a liquid and started squirting it onto the piece of cloth.

Monday immediately realized that the item on the ground was the American flag. The liquid doused onto the flag turned out to be lighter fluid.

“At that moment I was mad,” Monday told me by phone. He then did what he thought was the right thing to do. The only thing to do. He started running toward the two men to stop them. One of the guys lit a match, but the wind blew it out. Then, he lit a second one.

“I don’t know what I was thinking, if I was thinking about trying to bowl them over, or what,” Monday says. “I was close enough, though, that I remember thinking, ‘They can’t burn it if they don’t have it.’ So, I reached down and grabbed the flag.”

When you look at the photograph or the video that’s circulating on the Internet, you’ll notice that Monday’s timing was so perfect that the person with the second match proceeded to put the match to the ground, thinking the flag was still there.

Monday ran toward the Dodgers’ dugout, passing then-Dodger third-base coach Tommy Lasorda, who was shouting every obscenity known to man.

“I told Tommy, ‘What you were yelling would make a longshoreman blush,’” Monday, who eventually played for Lasorda inLos   Angeles, told me in 2006.

After the crowd of nearly 40,000 that Sunday afternoon began to boo the two guys for their despicable act and then cheer as security escorted the two off the field, the stadium grew quiet for a moment. Then, Monday’s proof that what he did was the right thing.

“Without any prompting at all, without the organ starting, without anything being put on the diamond vision,” remembers Monday, “one section of the stadium and then another and then another, began to sing ‘God Bless America.’ When those people reacted that way, it brought goose bumps, and it still does when I reflect upon it.”

Monday, whom the Kansas City A’s drafted with the first-ever selection in the Major League draft in 1965, the same year he started a six-year stint in the Marine Corps Reserves, had a solid 19-year big-league career. He played in nearly 2,000 games, compiling 1,619 hits and 775 RBIs.

After posting what turned out be career highs in home runs (32) and RBIs (77) with Chicago in 1976, the Cubs traded Monday to the Dodgers, where he played the next eight seasons as an outfielder for Lasorda, who took over as manager in ’77. In 1981, his solo homer with two outs in the top of the ninth againstMontreal, sent the Dodgers to the World Series.

Despite the numbers, Monday says that if fans mainly remember him for saving the flag, instead of a game-winning hit or a great catch or a long career, that’s just fine.

“It wouldn’t bother me if that’s what they remember,” said Monday, who receives letters every month from fans about that one moment, which the Baseball Hall of Fame voted as one of the 100 Classic Moments in the History of the Game. “It would bother me more if people asked, ‘Why didn’t you stop them?’”

Monday added that not only has he not had any communications with the two guys who tried to ignite the flag, but he’s never even wondered why they were attempting to do it. He says it’s not important. It was wrong, “regardless of the message.”

When it comes to that April day, Monday quickly points out that, even though he’s not a fan of the recognition he’s received, he’d do the same thing again.

“(The act) hasn’t changed me, but I have been embarrassed by the attention placed on me, because I didn’t do anything,” he says. “There isn’t anyone I know, fortunately, who wouldn’t have done the same thing. I am just honored to be able to maybe tell the story to someone who might stop for a moment and think about what’s right or wrong.

“And for someone to think that the reason we all have our rights and freedoms is that – to obviously greater extents than what I did in stopping two guys from burning a flag – somewhere along the line, someone has stopped to do the right thing.”

To contact Matt Fulks or for more information about his books, please visit MattFulks.com. Feel free to comment on Rick Monday’s act from April 25, 1976, below. We will make sure that Mr. Monday receives messages directed for him.

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2011 and Royal shades of 1976

Watching games on Wednesday night (although I mainly watched the Royals since it was their season finale), and the incredible finish to the regular season, it reminded me of a season the Royals had a dramatic finish. Actually, it was 1976, 35 years ago today, that the Royals punched their ticket for the organization’s first trip to the postseason.

So, in honor of that, here is a reprint of an article that appeared in the Kansas City Royals’ Gameday magazine.

1976: Overcoming the A’s…Finally

In a championship season, especially in baseball, it’s usually difficult to point to one game as a turning point or the key contest. That’s not the case with the 1976 Royals.

Ask nearly any member of that club their memory of 1976 and, without hesitating, they’ll point to a late September game against the Oakland A’s.

“That game truly was a defining moment in Royals history,” says broadcaster Denny Matthews. “It’s probably second only to Game 3 of the 1985 playoffs in terms of importance in franchise history. If we don’t beat Oakland in that game, we probably don’t win the division.”

That game happened on Wednesday night, Sept. 29, in Oakland. The A’s had been dominant since, basically, leaving Kansas City. They’d won the Western Division, 1971-75. The Royals had been competitive for a few years, but they were young and still learning how to win.

“Oakland always beat us and they knew they could beat us,” said Royals Hall of Fame shortstop Fred Patek.

“We had a really good team in 1973, but Oakland slapped us down,” club Hall of Famer Amos Otis added of the ’73 team that won 88 games. “The A’s were such a dominant team that they slapped us down a few times.”

Most recently, in 1975, when the Royals finished with a then-club-record 91 wins, but finished second to Oakland.
1976, though, seemed to be different. The Royals grabbed their first lone lead in the division on May 19. They stretched it to as many as 12 games as late as Aug. 6, behind great pitching from Dennis Leonard, Al Fitzmorris, Doug Bird and Paul Splittorff, plus a tough lineup that included Otis, George Brett, John Mayberry, Hal McRae and Al Cowens.

But something happened. The Royals struggled mightily down the stretch. After a five-game winning streak in the middle of September, the club fell apart. Heading into the final road series, at Oakland, the Royals had lost four out of five. Then, they dropped the first two against the A’s.

Suddenly, that 12-game lead in the division was down to 2 1/2 with four remaining.

So, on Wednesday, Sept. 29, manager Whitey Herzog pulled a couple rabbits out of his cap. He started pitcher Larry Gura and back-up catcher John Wathan. He also started Otis in centerfield. Otis, who had been beaned in the head two weeks earlier by Oakland pitcher Stan Bahnsen, was benched for those first two games.

Along with a four-hitter by Gura, Otis had an RBI double and a two-run home run as the Royals won 4-0.

“I was fortunate, as always, that the pitcher hit my bat with the ball and it went all the way out of the ballpark,” Otis said, laughing, of the home run.

The win clinched at least a tie with the A’s for the division title. They went on to earn the championship outright a couple nights later.

“Even though Oakland was our major nemesis, once we got the lead and were going into Oakland,” said Leonard, “we didn’t think we’d get swept, but we didn’t think we’d win only one, either. Luckily, Gura pitched one heck of a game.”

Getting past rival Oakland helped start a new rivalry with the New York Yankees, which began during that postseason. In the best-of-five American League playoffs, the Yankees beat the Royals in a heartbreaking fifth game, when Chris Chambliss hit a walk-off home run over the outstretched glove of Hal McRae.

“There was a sense of relief getting to the playoffs, but as the series went on, and we were tied two games to two, we felt we could win it,” Leonard said. “Of course that came to a crashing halt with Chambliss. But, playing in that series, and playing even with the Yankees with the exception of that one pitch, fueled our fire going into ‘77.”

In spite of the disappointing loss to the Yankees, the 1976 season set the Royals on a decade-long stretch of championship baseball. From 1976-85, the Royals won the Western Division six times and made two trips to the World Series, including the championship over St. Louis in 1985.
And, in many ways, it all started with that one September game against Oakland in 1976.

“Winning that game and the division,” Patek says, “was the big thing that gave us confidence the next year and following. After that, we felt that when we walked in the clubhouse, we couldn’t be beat.”

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