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When “The Munsters” Crossed Paths With Baseball: Bruce Markusen Looks Back at the (1965) Episode “Herman the Rookie”

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When "The Munsters" Crossed Paths With Baseball: Bruce Markusen Looks Back at the (1965) Episode "Herman the Rookie"

In many ways, it has turned into the “Summer of Nothing.” Postpone this, cancel that. When in doubt, just scratch it off the list.

For me, this was supposed to have been the Summer of Pat Priest and Butch Patrick. The two surviving members of “The Munsters” were scheduled to appear at the wonderful Monster Bash Conference in June, but that event was waylaid due to the coronavirus and a proclamation by Pennsylvania’s governor outlawing all public gatherings. So The Bash will have to wait until next year for me to acquire the actors’ autographs—and ask Pat out on a date. (Just kidding, folks, on the latter part. I am married.)

Even though this summer will have to go on without a meet-and-greet with “The Munsters”, we’re still able to enjoy the show on a nightly basis on COZI-TV, among other outlets. And we’re still free to reminisce about a short-lived but iconic program that remains a significant part of our popular culture.

In the meantime, a much-delayed baseball season is about to begin. So it seems like an especially good time to think about one of “The Munsters’” most celebrated episodes. That’s when America’s ghoulish family crossed paths with our National Pastime. It happened 55 years ago, during a 1965 episode (part of the show’s first season) called “Herman the Rookie,” which first aired on April 8. It centered on a guest appearance by Hall of Fame manager Leo Durocher, who was a coach with the Los Angeles Dodgers at the time.

The Munsters Herman the Rookie 1

Near the beginning of the episode, we see Herman (played as always by the great Fred Gwynne) conducting a baseball lesson with his son Eddie (played by Patrick) at a local park. Displaying his prodigious hitting form, Herman hits a ball that easily leaves the park, carrying a total of eight blocks, and eventually landing on the head of Durocher, as he walks along the street with fictional Dodgers executive Charlie Hodges. When he recovers from the impact of the ball, Durocher inquires as to who could hit a ball that far and soon discovers that Herman is responsible. Durocher isn’t looking to press charges against Herman; no, he wants to invite him to a formal tryout. So “Leo the Lip” makes his way to the Munsters’ house to meet Herman and the rest of the family.

This meeting leads to one of the most comical scenes in “The Munsters’” two-season run on CBS. Wearing street clothes instead of his Dodgers uniform, Durocher is seen supervising a tryout at a local ballpark (Jackie Robinson Field in Pasadena). With several of the Dodgers players in attendance (wearing generic uniforms without the team logo), Herman proceeds to take a round of batting practice. Bulging with muscles and looking a bit like The Incredible Hulk, Herman proceeds to put on a gargantuan hitting display. He hits the first pitch over the center field fence, the second pitch against the top of the scoreboard (which comically falls to the ground), and a third ball that burns through the glove (and seemingly the hand) of the third baseman. After his last swing, Herman runs to first and proceeds to knock the first baseman to the ground, prompting Durocher to say, “I don’t know whether to sign him with the Dodgers or send him to Vietnam.”

In the field, Herman plays both the outfield and second base, and manages to send the first baseman into a somersault with the sheer force of one of his throws. By the end of the tryout, the Dodgers players begin to run away from the seven-foot Herman, fearful that he may cause irreparable damage to their health.

While Herman’s abilities to hit and throw are remarkable, they are not enough to garner him a contract with the Dodgers. Due to the collateral damage inflicted by Herman, Durocher is instructed by Dodgers owner Walter O’Malley to turn away the rookie prospect. O’Malley feels that Herman will cause so much destruction at Dodger Stadium, that the financial losses will offset the benefits of his extraordinary baseball talents. Additionally, the Dodgers’ insurance company refuses to allow the team’s players to take the field with Herman, given the risks to their health and safety. And just like that, Herman Munster’s one-day career in baseball comes to an inglorious end.

The Munsters Herman the Rookie 2

The end result is one of the funniest episodes in the brief history of “The Munsters”. Herman, with overgrown muscles that make him look like Jack LaLanne on steroids, looks rather ridiculous in baseball double-knits, especially while still wearing the large black boots that served as one of his trademarks. Even more amusing is the physical slapstick comedy created by Herman’s superhuman strength, along with the frantic reaction of the Dodgers’ players. This kind of slapstick was typical of the show, with Herman coming across as a gentlemanly giant who simply could not control his enormous strength, thus accidently wrecking everything in his path.

In a less obvious way, but one that will catch the attention of baseball historians, the episode is notable for the curious depiction of Durocher. He is never seen wearing his Dodgers uniform (perhaps because the Dodgers’ organization would not allow it), but he acts as if he is the team’s manager, even though he was only a coach working under the leadership of Walter Alston. At the time, it was fairly well known that tension existed between Alston and Durocher. Alston never quite trusted Durocher, whom he felt wanted to succeed him as Dodgers manager. If Alston ever did watch the episode with Durocher, those fears might have been exacerbated.

Then again, Alston might not have cared that much about the Durocher appearance. A man with little ego, he was not the type to seek attention for himself. A quiet, introspective sort, Alston never had aspirations of appearing on camera. In contrast, Durocher knew many people within Hollywood. He had also been married to actress Laraine Day before their divorce in 1960. Leo loved appearing on camera—and made cameos on a number of TV shows from the 1960s, including “The Beverley Hillbillies”, “Mr. Ed”, and “The Donna Reed Show”. That love of the camera—and the attention that came with it—is readily apparent throughout Durocher’s encounter with the Munsters.

The Munsters Herman the Rookie 4

There are additional connections between baseball and the Munsters to be found in the 23-minute episode. Besides Durocher, another baseball figure appears, albeit with a small role. The “fearful catcher,” as he is listed in the show-ending credits, was played by Ken Hunt, an outfielder at the time with the Washington Senators and formerly a member of the Los Angeles Angels. In real life, Hunt happened to be the stepfather of Butch Patrick. Given the child labor laws of the time period, it’s likely that one of Patrick’s parents had to be on set anyway, so the producers of the show asked Hunt to don the catcher’s gear while giving him a couple of lines of dialogue. “No, no, no, hold it. No. I quit, Leo. No! I’m going back to the minors.” exclaims Hunt when Durocher tells Herman to throw the ball home.

It’s also worth noting that one of “The Munsters’” regular cast members had a looser connection to baseball. Al Lewis, who played Grandpa Munster with such wonderful gusto and sarcasm, had once worked as a hot dog vendor at Ebbets Field, home to the Dodgers during their earlier years in Brooklyn. A diehard sports fan who loved baseball and basketball, Lewis spent part of his career working as a pro basketball scout. Lewis also followed baseball closely, making it a special thrill to have a legendary figure like Durocher on the set at Universal Studios.

Hunt, Durocher, and Herman all collaborate to make “Herman the Rookie” one of the most memorable episodes featured on “The Munsters”. And I guess we should all take some consolation in that. They can take away Monster Bash, and our other horror conventions and gatherings, but they can’t take Herman, the rest of the Munsters, or Leo Durocher away from our television screens.

The Munsters Herman the Rookie 3

Check out what Bruce is up to on his Facebook page: Ghostly Gallery.

RELATED: BRUCE MARKUSEN REMEMBERS “THE MUNSTERS” TV SHOW 50 YEARS LATER

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