Herald Journal Columns
May 1, 2006, Herald Journal / Enterprise Dispatch

Baseball is America’s No. 1 game

By Matt Kane

In my heart baseball has always been America’s game.

Others in the media — yes, there are others outside the Enterprise Dispatch — would argue that the torch has been passed from the baseball diamond to the gridiron. There have been instances of patriotism in the NFL like Pat Tillman, and even Whitney Houston’s rendition of the Star Spangled Banner in Super Bowl XXV in 1991. Tillman’s sacrifice certainly was the ultimate form of devotion to this country, but Whitney’s performance was planned and rehearsed over and over to produce the affect it released on the nation — a nation coming out of Desert Storm.

Whatever it takes to strengthen patriotism in the United States is a good thing, but those instances that were planned in a boardroom are less significant, in my mind, than those which were not planned months, days, hours or even minutes before they were carried out.

One non-planned moment was brought to my attention in Tuesday’s USA Today.

The article, headlined: “Flag-saving moment still winning salutes,” told of a truly patriotic act that took place April 25, 1976, in Los Angeles.

During a game at Dodger Stadium, Chicago Cubs outfielder Rick Monday performed an act of heroism that is still remembered 30 years later, when he saved an American flag from being burned by two fans.

Still a month away from making my debut in this world, I cannot give a first-hand account of the incident, and to be honest, I hadn’t heard of it before Tuesday. But the story is that two fans, 36-year-old William Thomas and his 11-year-old son hopped the left field fence with the Stars and Stripes in hand, and doused the flag in lighter fluid with the intent to torch it. But, before the two could touch flame to flag,

Monday ran from his center field position and snatched Old Glory from the hands of the two Americana arsonists.

A photo accompanying the story shows Monday sprinting out of the frame with the Stars and Stripes flapping before him, as the two protesters kneel on the ground in confusion.

It may not be coincidental that Monday’s flag-saving act happened during a baseball game. The sport breathes of patriotism.

What is more American than baseball and apple pie? And what other league displays the American flag more than Major League Baseball?

Nothing resuscitated a country still trying to catch its wind after 9/11 than the Yankees game on Sept. 18 of that year and the torn flag that flew over Yankee Stadium during the 2001 World Series.

Watch a major league game on a national holiday or a day of remembrance and one will see the flag displayed by every player, coach, manager, ball boy and umpire — American born or not — on the field.

There were no Stars and Stripes on caps and helmets Tuesday in remembrance of Monday’s effort 30 years ago, but maybe there should have been. Lets not forget what was going on at the time on the other side of the globe from where the Dodgers and Cubs were playing.

On one hand, the United States was on the heals of the Vietnam War, which created unrest in the country, while, at the same time, the nation was full of joy in celebrating its bicentennial.

“It was the greatest heroic act that’s ever happened on a baseball field,” Hall of Famer and former Dodger manager Tom Lasorda told the USA Today. “He protected the symbol of everything that we live for. And the symbol that we live in the greatest country in the world.”

Monday’s flag-saving incident isn’t the only example of patriotism in baseball.

Back before million-dollar signing bonuses were chic, the men who threw screw balls also threw hand grenades during times of war.

Thirty-five Hall of Famers and more than 500 baseball players served in WWII, and five Hall of Famers served in Korea, according to the National Baseball Hall of Fame web site.

Those are two wars. Hall of Famer Morgan Bulkeley served in the Civil War, and Garry Maddox and Al Bumbry are two players who served in Vietnam. These veterans and all those who didn’t play baseball are honored on Veterans Day in November, and all the veterans who are no longer with us are remembored later this month on Memorial Day, a day recognized by Major League Baseball with an American flag on the caps of all its players.

Monday, who served six years in the Marine Corps Reserves, told the USA Today his action 30 years ago had to do with those who sacrificed in Vietnam.

“We weren’t that far removed from Vietnam at the time. But what they were trying to do in 1976 was wrong. It’s still wrong,” he told the newspaper. “That little piece of cloth represents a lot of rights and freedoms that people have given up their lives to protect.”

Monday still has the flag in a safe deposit box, and has turned down a reported $1 million offer for its ownership. A sign that patriotism cannot be bought.

Raise your hand if you think Whitney sang the Star Spangled Banner for free. Anyone?

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