Profile by BCB reader MadHatterBlues (with additions by Al)
Robert James Monday (and doesn't "Rick Monday" sound better than "Bob Monday"?) was born in Batesville, Arkansas on November 20, 1945 and became a household name before he ever donned a major league uniform -- by becoming the first player ever selected in the first round of the very first amateur draft in 1965, by the Kansas City Athletics, after he had led Arizona State to the College World Series title and was named College Player of the Year.
After several years as a not-quite-fulltime player, never quite living up to the hype of being that #1 pick, the A's sent him to the Cubs after the 1971 season in exchange for Ken Holtzman. Moving from the spacious Coliseum to Wrigley Field, and getting more playing time, Monday increased his production. The lefty hitting and throwing outfielder was a good player in the field with an accurate arm.
A free swinger, Monday struck out 90+ times in each of his five seasons with the Cubs, but was not against taking a walk or two as his OBP shows. His 92 walks in 1973 was the highest single-season total for a Cub between Jim Hickman's 93 in 1970, and Gary Matthews' 103 in 1984.
His power was certainly enough to change a game, and against the Phillies in Philadelphia on May 16, 1972, he homered in three consecutive at-bats in an 8-1 Cub win.
His best year with the Cubs, and best in his major league career, was also his last with the club. In '76 he hit .272/.346/.507 with 32 HRs and scored over a 100 runs for the only time in his career. The performance got him a token appearance in the MVP voting (finishing tied for 18th); he had clearly been the best hitter on the club at the All-Star break, but since the NL stars had too many outfielders that year, Monday was snubbed and Steve Swisher chosen as the Cub representative, perhaps the worst Cub All-Star selection ever. Monday moved to the Dodgers after the 1976 season in a trade that saw Bill Buckner and Ivan DeJesus coming to the North Side. With Monday on board, the Dodgers went on to win the pennant in both 1977 and 1978. Monday would also go on to break the heart of Expos fans in 1981 when he clubbed a game-tying homer in game 5 of the NLCS off Steve Rogers, with the Expos one out away from going to the World Series.
Despite this fine, solid major league career, Rick Monday's signature moment, one for which he will always be remembered, has little to do with the game of baseball itself.
On April 25, 1976, with the Cubs playing the field at Dodger stadium, two protestors ran out onto the field with one out in the fourth inning, from the left-field corner and ran past Cubs left fielder Jose Cardenal. They then attempted to set fire to an American flag they had brought with them. Monday (playing center field) saw the men and running over to them on the field snatched the flag away before they could do any damage. He received a thunderous cheer from the watching Dodger fans, and the protestors were led away by ballpark police.
(Note from MadHatterBlues: it's important at this stage to point out a couple of things. I'm not American [I'm from Scotland] and I really don't care much about the American flag. Indeed, these days, if an American flag is raised anywhere on this side of the water its more likely to be booed than anything else. That said, I realize the importance some people place in the flag, and the sensitivity that surrounds the idea of it being set on fire. I think the above picture is a beautiful image and although I don't feel any personal sense of attachment to the flag, I nonetheless find the symbolism of Monday's act powerful.)
I still find it amazing just how iconic an image the above picture became. America was at a low ebb in the 70's. Vietnam, Watergate, a bad economy and other factors had all served to diminish any sense of national pride. In this atmosphere Monday's act promoted him to the status of national hero. Aside from being a terrific bit of photography, the image of Rick fighting for and liberating the flag seemed the kind of symbol around which national pride can be built and in this case restored. Praise rained down on Rick from many sources including President Ford. He received a hero's welcome wherever the Cubs played for the remainder of the season, and the trade that sent him to the Dodgers after the season was clearly (at least in part) motivated by Monday's hero status at Dodger stadium.
Although overshadowing what was a perfectly respectable big-league career, the flag incident only helped to improve the image of Monday and baseball in the eyes of the fans, at a time when baseball was at a similar low ebb. A Dodgers executive presented the flag to Monday when they visited Wrigley that year, and it is still proudly displayed in his home.
Since retirement as a player, Monday has spent many years as a broadcaster, for both the San Diego Padres and the Dodgers, for whom he still works today.