There are some things I’ll never understand, and one of them regards the 1976 Cubs. This was my first full season as a fan, and I hadn’t learned anything about the team and its history yet. As far as I was concerned, they were just a team that wore blue and played their games in the afternoon.
I didn’t know anything about the All-Star game just yet. And the National League All-Star team, such as it was in 1976, was also known as the Cincinnati Reds. The Big Red Machine was in full effect, and just about all of their “Great Eight” position players started in the All-Star Game in Philadelphia that summer. Sparky Anderson chose the rest of the team, and so having so many Reds on the team meant that many other teams were represented by a single player.
When it came time to choose the Cubs’ player for the team, Anderson somehow chose Steve Swisher. This makes no sense at all, because another Cubs player, Rick Monday, had a much better season in 1976 than Swisher did. Monday hit 32 home runs, as opposed to five for Swisher. Monday drove in 77 runs, while Swisher had 42. And Monday hit .272 that season, while Swisher hit just .236. I can’t imagine too many .236 hitters have ever been able to say they made the all-star team that year.
Monday had a decent year statistically–certainly better than Swisher did–but there was more to it than that. Early in the season, on April 25 (which was 32 years ago today, if you’re wondering), Rick Monday snatched an American flag away from two men who were attempting to burn it in the outfield at Dodger Stadium.
Even in the pre-ESPN, pre-YouTube days of yore, Monday’s act received a lot of attention during the bicentennial celebrations that were going on. The All-Star game was played in Philadelphia that year, and the location was not an accident. Mark “The Bird” Fidrych was the star of the American league team that year, and if one player could have overshadowed Rose, and Bench, and Foster, and the rest of the Reds lineup, it could have been the flag’s savior, Rick Monday. But it was not to be.
Sparky Anderson isn’t with us anymore, and I don’t know whether he ever really explained the reason for his decision. There was something I read about too many outfielders and the need for a catcher, but frankly that doesn’t wash with me. If Monday was wanted, he would have been named to the team, as he was in 1978 when he played for the Dodgers. But the chance to honor Monday for what he did earlier that year was definitely missed.
If you’re wondering, Steve Swisher didn’t play in the All-Star game that year. It was also the only time that he was ever named to an all-star team. His name may sound familiar to modern fans, though, because he is the father of Nick Swisher of the New York Yankees.
A video of the event is here, along with some interview footage of Rick Monday. What he did on that day will still be worth talking in another 32 years, if not longer.