Today in Cubs History: Thirty Years of Monday
When Monday rushed into the middle of a flag-burning, he unwittingly rushed into the middle of a dour, divided nation, and for a moment, however brief, offered us unity and optimism. America had withdrawn from the Vietnam War in 1973, and the South Vietnamese government that the US had supported, located in Saigon, fell to the communist rebel forces in 1975. The year before that, President Richard Nixon had resigned from office in disgrace, rather than face certain impeachment and conviction over his directing of illegal activities to discredit his (real or perceived) political enemies, and subsequent cover-up. Race riots replaced peaceful protest in the years following the assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr. and Bobby Kennedy. Urban conditions rapidly deteriorated nationwide, with New York City teetering near bankruptcy. Just months from the bi-centennial of the signing of the Declaration of Independence, Americans felt ambivalent about their recent past and near future. In an instant, Monday's act transformed him from a baseball player and into an icon. He was praised in every city the Cubs played, with fan mail pouring in from across America. Everyone from President Ford to local town halls issued resolutions of thanks. Mayor Daley named Monday the Grand Marshall of the cityís Flag Day parade. As it turns out, Thomasís reason for the attempted burning appears to have been completely idiosyncratic, unrelated to any of these divisive matters. According to the Los Angeles Times,
ìThe man who tried to burn the American Flag at Dodger Stadium was attempting to draw attention to what he claims is his wifeís ìimprisonmentî in a Missouri mental institution, authorities say.î (LAT, 4/30/1976)Charged with trespassing, Thomas was convicted and sentenced to a yearís probation and a $60 fine or three days in jail. He took the three days. After the trial's conclusion, the Dodgers delivered the flag back to Monday. In many ways, it was a complete fluke that Monday got brought into the spotlight: he was in the right place at the right time to respond to an event that someone else initiated. Thomas and his son had ran past Jose Cardenal on their way to center. There was plenty of time for other players or security to respond. Indeed, Tommy Lasorda was racing to the outfield, but Monday got there, first. But dismissing Mondayís iconic status as a fluke would unfairly belittle two important facts. Monday did act, and he acted gracefully. The mid-70s through the early 80s was a time when the persistent threat of mob violence hung over professional sports ñ think of Reggie Jackson desperately racing to get off the field when the Yankees won the 1977 World Series, bowling through the hordes of fans that had flooded past the horse-mounted police line.
Or Disco Demolition Night.
Granted, those incidents had not yet occurred when Monday considered whether or not to advance; but he did already have a past history with crazed fans jumping onto the field, which must have made him think twice. A fan in Oakland, years earlier, had drunkenly raced around the outfield, shaking Mondayís, Mike Hershbergerís, and Reggie Jacksonís hands, before escaping over the center field wall. (With Monday and Jackson giving him a hand up!) (Muskatt, Banks to Sandberg to Grace p. 152) So Monday easily could have chosen to avoid any confrontation with Thomas. On the other hand, he could have forced an ugly confrontation. Afterwards, Monday indicated that Lasorda looked like he had death on his mind as he advanced on Thomas ñ a point that Lasorda does little to dispel, in his memoirs. Monday simply left Thomas alone. Afterwards, he expressed humility and moderation, speaking about what the flag meant to him, personally, and couching his act not just as a defense of the flag, but of the integrity of the baseball field. Said Monday,
It simply goes back to the way I was raised, to the ideals that the flagÖ reflects the freedoms and rights of every person in this country. Iíve toured too many hospitals and seen too many kids who have been horribly wounded defending the Flag to allow anyone to try and damage what it stands for, especially when theyíre also damaging baseballís integrity by using a stadium as a stage for their demonstration.î (LAT 5/5/1976)Whatís most interesting to me, as a historian, is the comparative lack of commentary about the political symbolism of Mondayís act, in his own day, and the comparative lack of exploitation by cultural warriors, compared to how it is treated, now. The Chicago Tribune mentioned the flag save in the following dayís write-up. The New York Times sports section made even briefer mention of the incident. Only the L.A. Times gave the incident any real attention, and that attention was focused more on the oddity of the event than upon the symbolism that might be drawn out of it. A Wall Street Journal editorial observed that the universal acclaim and apolitical reception of Monday's actions portended a turnabout in the American mood, towards one of optimism and comity. (WSJ, 5/13/1976) An incident that easily could have become just another expression of the cultural wars between two stock characters - the starry-eyed, law-and-order patriot athlete, and scruffy, subversive protesters - instead became a simple, beautiful, unifying gesture. If only it had remained that way. Thirty years later, Americans again live with an unpopular president, an unpopular war, hard economic times, and a broad sense of malaise and unease. Itís a situation that, much as it did in the mid-70s, exacerbates existing social divisions and encourages those who seek political benefit from the divisions. The Monday incident, sadly, has not been immune to exploitation by some of the more shrill voices of division. We have forgotten that William Thomas was an unemployed, probably drunk and certainly deranged man protesting his wife's hospitalization; he is now asumed to have been some sort of anti-war hippie. (One blog commentary claims he was protesting the condition of American Indians.) Rick Monday's response has been appropriated by advocates of a constitutional amendment banning flag defacement; Googling the incident shows more commentary from political partisans than from baseball partisans. Have we forgotten that his actions and Americans' reactions exhibited the best of American optimism and cohesion, not of political cynicism and division? We could use another Rick Monday. Post-script. As a baseball player, Monday was notable for being the first player ever selected in the MLB amateur draft, in June, 1965. The Dodgers had openly coveted Monday for quite some time, and after the flag incident, Al Campanis groused that ìthereís no way theyíll trade him now. Heís Mr. Red White and Blue.î Of course, in the next off-season the Cubs traded Monday and Mike Garman to the Dodgers, for Bill Buckner, Ivan DeJesus and Jeff Albert. You will recall whom the Cubs received when they traded DeJesus a few years later.
DC TOM "The Summer of Monday" I trace my history as a Cub fan to April 25, 1976. That day gave a brown haired, eight year old Illinois boy with a field of corn as his back yard his first true childhood hero. That day also sowed the seed for a lifelong loyalty to the team and set the stage for the first true test of that loyalty. In the small slice of Americana I called home in 1976, references to the Bicentennial were everywhere. Banners flew throughout my home town, special parades and fireworks were planned, and folks talked about these festivities as soon as early spring. My friends and I did not watch baseball nearly as much as we played it, for hours at a time in a cleared part of the field and with tennis balls (which donít fly as far into the rows of corn, as our home run fence). ìDuty, honor, and countryî was a creed where I grew upóno 1960s counter-culture here, but even us kids noticed the after-effects and self-doubt that the tragedy of Vietnam and the gut-wrenching events of Watergate bestowed upon our families and our town. And then on April 25, 1976, Chicago Cub Rick Monday rescued an American Flag from being burned in the Dodger Stadium outfield. The reaction in my world was immediate and emotional. To this eight year old boy, this was the Most Incredible, Huge, and Mammoth Story of the Century! Coverage of the Event and the Hero was non-stop, it seemed (although in those days, ìnon-stopî meant more than one story in the Chicago Daily News). In a flash, Rick Monday became my hero. His hair was the same color as mine and he was left-handed, just like me. And he had Saved the American Flag. I clipped every Rick Monday story and every picture I could find and taped them on my wall, right next to my bed. Every Cub game was on WGN, and my friends and I immediately began to adjust our playing schedule to the Cubs schedule, so we could see this Real American Hero in action. Immediately, our world grew and expanded beyond our little town. Our team traveled to cities across the country, in baby blue uniforms that were proudly adorned with the name of our new, much-larger home town. And in city after city, Rich Monday, in my mindís eye, hit Monumental Home Run after Monumental Home RunÖ1976 became the Summer of Monday. The Cubs finished twenty-six games behind the hated the Phillies that year, but for the entire winter, my circle of friends was optimistic. We poured over our baseball cards and we symbolically traded for and tore up every Mike Schmidt card we could find. We believed that the Cubs had the leagueís best hitter in Bill Madlock, that Rick Reuschel would win a Cy Young, and that Greg Luzinski was a fat slob, so no way would he hit more homers next year than the Real American Hero Rick Monday. But in the span of four weeks that winter, the Cubs tested my loyalty. On January 11, 1977, the Cubs traded Rick Monday to the Dodgers for some guy named Buckner and some shortstop named DeJesus. The news hit me like a ton of bricksÖI was devastated, I cried, I cursed and I swore at the Cubs. I was still in shock when on February 11, the Cubs traded Bill Madlock (NL batting champion and my best friendís hero!) for Bobby Murcer. I remember someone on WGN radio touting Murcer as ìThe Next Rick Monday.î Not to meÖ he threw with the wrong hand and his hair was definitely NOT the same color as mine. And that was it. I was done with the Cubs. I was nine years old, and the fact (now obvious) that the Cubs ìsold highî after Mondayís age 30 career year meant nothing to me. The Cub hat went into a box and I made my Dad buy me a Dodger hat. I read the Dodgers box score first every day, tracking each Rick Monday dinger. My lifelong Cub fan Dad began to worry, especially because the Cubs were having a good yearóand I did not care, because the Dodgers were having a better year (as I kept pointing out to him). After weeks of begging, he ìrelentedî and ìofferedî to take me to Wrigley Field to see Rick Monday the next time the Dodgers came to town. August 20, 1977 was the first trip to Wrigley that I remember, and it took me years to realize that I fell prey to my Dadís Master Plan. I wore my Dodger hat to the game, and I yelled and screamed when Rick Monday was announced. In cheering, it felt like I was not aloneÖto my ears, it seemed to me that the entire stadium erupted into a roar of defiance to Cub management at the sound of the Real American Heroís name. The Dodgers took an early lead, and the crowd was edgy. It was August and the Cubs were barely clinging to a shred of hope in a real live pennant race against the Phillies. The hated Phillies had come to Wrigley the week before and swept all four games, turning a 2 Ω game lead on the Cubs to 6 Ω in one fell swoop. And now the Cubs were down 3-1 going to the bottom of the seventhÖ And then it happened. With two outs in the seventh, Bill Buckner jerked a three-run home run off Mike Garman to give the Cubs the lead. The fans went crazy and I got swept up in the fervor. To me I had actually seen one live, an actual Monumental and Historic Blast. And the symbolism was not lost on meóthis Historic Blast was made by Buckner, the player the Cubs received in the trade for the guy who threw the ball (Garman) and the Real American Hero. Caught up by the cheering of the crowd, the Dodger hat meekly came off my head. And in the eighth inning, after the ìotherî Reuschel (Paul) promptly gave up this lead, guess who scored the eventual winning run for the Cubs? Bobby Murcer. Leaving the park that day, I was a Cub fan for lifeÖIt didnít matter that the Cubs eventually finished fourth that year, twenty games in back of the Phillies. On that day in August, the atmosphere of the park, the frosty malts, and the sheer majesty and poetry of the game I had seen hooked me. The new CubsóBuckner and Murceróhad seized the torch from Rick Monday and re-lit the light of Cub fandom in me, this time for life. But you only get one childhood hero, and while Bucker and Murcer were Cubs, they could never fully replace Rick Monday. Monday made me a Cubs fan and expanded my world, both for what he did for the team that season and for what he did for the country that day in 1976. I still followed his career, saddened that he never again reached the heights of the Summer of 1976. But the nation and I did see a flash one more time, with one swing in the 1981 NLCS. That day, I yelled and cheered the second-best moment in Mondayís careeróhis two out, game winning home run in the ninth inning of the deciding game against the Expos. In that moment, I was once again eight years old, jumping up and down, celebrating a Real American Heroís Monumental and Historic Blast, and fondly re-living the Summer of Monday.