By Glen Sparks
Rick Monday went No. 1.
The Kansas City A’s selected Monday with the first pick overall in the inaugural Major League baseball draft, held in 1965, 50 years ago today. He really wasn’t a surprise choice. An outfielder at Arizona State University, Monday had been drawing comparisons to the great Mickey Mantle. He even had blond hair, just like the Mick.
Word sneaked out—or, rather got shouted out—that the A’s had taken Monday with the top pick while the powerhouse Sun Devils were at Rosenblatt Stadium in Omaha, Neb., to play in the College World Series. The sportswriters wanted a story.
“Our guys were about to play the most important game of our lives, and here come a bunch of reporters. One of them said, ‘Rick, you’re the No. 1 pick by the A’s.’,” Monday said in a May 27 article written by Lyle Spencer for mlb.com.
Just a few years earlier, it looked like Monday would be a Dodger. Born in Batesville, Ark., Monday grew up in Santa Monica, Calif., a seaside suburb of Los Angeles. The Dodgers’ local scout was none other than future manager Tommy LaSorda.
The negotiations played out in the Monday household in the spring of 1963. Lasorda kept writing out figures on a signing paper. And, he kept ripping up the papers and increasing the number. Finally, the number got to $20,000, according to an article written by Mark Saxon for ESPN.com. That was a lot of money back then.
Nelda Monday wanted Rick to get an education. But, she was a Dodger fan, too.
Nelda told LaSorda that, of course, her son would sign with the Dodgers—just as soon as he got through with college. It was a deal. Then, the draft got in the way..
Baseball created a draft system as a way to keep wealthier teams, especially the Yankees and Cardinals, from stockpiling young talent. Until the draft, amateur prospects could sign as free agents with any team they wanted. Four teams at the 1964 Winter Meetings—the Yankees, Cardinals, Dodgers and Mets—argued against a draft. Ultimately, only the Cardinals voted against it. And, that put an end to a handshake deal between Tommy LaSorda and Nelda Monday.
Monday never became Mickey Mantle, one of the greatest sluggers in the baseball history. But, he was still pretty good. The left-handed hitter played 19 years with the A’s, the Chicago Cubs, and, yes, eventually the Dodgers under LaSorda.
He knocked 241 home runs, including a high of 32 for the Cubs in 1976. He drove in 775 runs and only batted .264 but, thanks to a keen knowledge of the strike zone, he retired with an on-base percentage of .364. Monday made the American League All-Star team in 1968 and the National League team in 1978.
Baseball’s first No. 1 may be most famous for “saving the flag” while with the Cubs on April 25, 1976. The bottom of the fourth inning had just begun at Dodger Stadium. Monday noticed that two protesters had run onto the field and were about to set fire to an American flag. Monday, who had served in the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve, sprinted over and grabbed the flag before the protester could set it ablaze. Fans gave Monday a standing ovation when he came to bat in the top of the fifth; a thank you on the message board at Chavez Ravine read “RICK MONDAY … YOU MADE A GREAT PLAY.”
The Dodgers traded for Monday before the start of the 1977 season, in exchange for Bill Buckner. Monday hit his most famous home run as a Dodger in Game 5 of the 1981 playoffs against the Montreal Expos at Olympic Stadium. He belted a pitch off Steve Rogers to put the Dodgers ahead 2-1 and send Los Angeles to the World Series. The big-hit event would go down as “Blue Monday.”
Back problems plagued Monday during his time with the Dodgers. He missed significant time during several of his eight seasons in Los Angeles. Monday retired following the 1984 campaign and got into broadcasting, a good career choice thanks to his baritone voice. He continues to do Dodger games, usually as a color man on the radio, with Charlie Steiner doing play-by-play.
On the golden anniversary of his selection in the draft, Monday reflected on the challenge of being No. 1. “Every year that No. 1 pick is selected, and I know what they’re going to go through,” Monday said on truebluela.com, a popular Dodger blog. “If you hit two home runs in a game, why didn’t you hit three? If you have four hits in a game, why didn’t you have five?”