The Greatest Save in Baseball History: Monday’s Heroics Were a Defining Moment in Patriotism and the American Pastime

(The following is being syndicated from The Captain’s Blog).

The death of Osama Bin Laden sparked a wave of patriotic fervor that swept across the United States. One of the most vivid images of this spontaneous reaction took place at Citizens Bank Ballpark, where fans started to chant “U-S-A” during the tenth inning of the Mets and Phillies’ Sunday night game.

Over the last 150 years, baseball has been no stranger to patriotism. In wartime and peace, America’s favorite pastime has always seemed to rally around the flag. Just ask Rick Monday.

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The 1970s were a different time in American history. The country was still reeling from the resignation of a president and still healing from the scars of the Vietnam War. In an unstable world, confidence in the American way seemed as if it had been lost.

Amid that backdrop, which was accentuated by an election year and the bicentennial, the Los Angeles Dodgers hosted the Chicago Cubs on April 25, 1976. The first three innings of the game were relatively uneventful, but in the bottom of the fourth, the turbulent politics of the time set the stage for one of baseball’s most memorable moments.

With the Dodgers batting in the inning, a father and son jumped on the field and casually ran toward center field. The first man dropped an American flag to the ground and then doused it with lighter fluid. The second man followed behind with matches in hand. After the first attempt to set the flag ablaze failed, another match was about to be struck when out of nowhere, Monday, who was playing centerfield, raced over and snatched the star spangled banner from the outfield grass.

It was the greatest heroic act that’s ever happened on a baseball field. He protected the symbol of everything that we live for. And the symbol that we live in the greatest country in the world.” – Tom Lasorda, quoted in USA Today, April 25, 2006

It took some time for everyone to process what had occurred. As the trespassers were escorted off the field, the crowd watched in relative quiet, with only a smattering of cheers breaking through the veil. Then, as the symbolic importance of the event became clear, the crowd gradually rose to its feet and cheered. Soon, the standing ovation gave way to a chorus of God BlessAmerica.

Maybe we’re getting back to that point where it once was fashionable for everyone to respect not only his country and his flag but also himself or herself, and if it turns out that somebody like Rick Monday had to be the one to show the way then I say hooray for him.” – Milton Richman, UPI Sports Editor, May 6, 1976

Considering the political climate in the country, some were surprised by the emotions that Monday’s actions inspired. However, the resurgent feelings of patriotism were unmistakable. All around the country, the outfielder was being hailed for his heroic gesture. Some even credited him with changing the country’s political consciousness. Although it’s hard to say just how much of an impact Monday’s actions had on the nation, his heroics left an immediate and indelible mark on the game, not to mention a permanent highlight in his career.

During his19-year career, Monday hit 241 long balls, made two All Star teams, and hit a game winning homerun in the 1981 NLCS. However, he’ll best be remembered for recording the most important save in baseball history.

2 thoughts on “The Greatest Save in Baseball History: Monday’s Heroics Were a Defining Moment in Patriotism and the American Pastime

  1. nyyankeefanforever

    I like to think of J.T. Snow snatching Dusty Baker’s 3-year-old son out of harm’s way as he crossed home plate with David Bell hot on his heels in Game 5 of the 2002 World Series as the greatest save in baseball history, but I get the point. Really nice retrospective, William.

  2. Joe O

    Excellent post. I had never heard of this story.

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