(Editor's Note: First in a series recalling the 30 greatest moments in Cubs history.)
Rick Monday had a solid 19-year major league career, including five terrific seasons with the Cubs, but he will always be remembered for his courageous and patriotic feat during the Cubs' game against Los Angeles at Dodger Stadium on April 25, 1976.
Cubs center fielder Rick Monday prevents the American flag from being burned by protesters on the field at Dodger Stadium on April 25, 1976.
The Sporting News described it as "Francis Scott Key, Betsy Ross, Verdun, and Iwo Jima - all wrapped up in a fleeting moment of patriotism."
John Hale was stepping to the plate for the Dodgers with one out in the bottom of the fourth in front of a Sunday afternoon crowd of 25,167 when two men ran onto the playing field.
"After a number of years of playing, when someone comes on the field, you don't know what's going to happen," Monday said. "Is it because they had too much to drink? Is it because they're trying to win a bet? Is it because they don't like you or do they have a message that they're trying to present?"
The men knelt on the ground in left-center, placed an American flag on the ground, and appeared ready to burn it.
Monday, who was playing center field, sprinted toward the protesters and snatched the flag 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," Monday told the The Associated Press years later. "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.
"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."
Both men were removed from the field by Dodger Stadium security.
"After the guys left, there was a buzz in the stands, people being aghast with what had taken place," Monday said. "Without being prompted, and I don't know where it started, but people began to sing 'God Bless America.' When I reflect back upon it now, I still get goose bumps."
Monday hit a career-high 32 home runs with the Cubs that season, but it was his patriotic act that made him a celebrity.
"That put Rick on the map," Cubs reliever Darold Knowles told Peter Golenbock in Wrigleyville (St. Martin's Press, 1996). "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."