I watched a lot of The Munsters growing up, mostly because it was on and we didn’t have cable until years later. One episode that was buried deep in my memory that I haven’t thought about in years, was when Herman Munster tried out for the Dodgers.
CBS aired “Herman the Rookie” on April 8, 1965, four days before Opening Day for a Dodgers team that would go on to win the World Series.
Herman is showing his son, Eddie, how to play baseball at a local park, and in doing so hits a ball so comically far that it fades out of view, well beyond the park. It’s important to note that the special effects are wonderfully terrible.
Cut to Leo Durocher, who is talking with a reporter and suddenly gets conked on the head by a baseball. The reporter notes the nearest park is eight blocks away, so Durocher suddenly ignores the pain in his head and vows to sign this player. After asking around, Durocher learns the source of the baseball had to be Herman Munster.
Durocher isn’t presented as the Dodgers manager in the episode, though he is conveyed as someone with authority to sign players (this episode aired two months before the first-ever MLB draft). Durocher was a Dodgers coach under manager Walt Alston from 1961 to 1964.
“Don’t worry about it, Walt. I’ll have his name on the contract first thing in the morning. Oh, is this Munster character going to be swept off his feet with the most sincere, lovable, charming personality,” Durocher says in a phone call. “What do you mean, who am I sending? I’m going myself.”
Alston is never mentioned in the episode, but Dodgers owner Walter O’Malley is, later on. It’s unclear exactly who Durocher is talking to on the phone, but I chuckled at the thought of calling O’Malley “Walt.”
There are a lot of Vaudevillian-style jokes and gags in the episode, and Durocher for the most part holds his own. Here are some highlights:
- Durocher on seeing the Munsters’ home, on Mockingbird Lane: “I’ve never seen a place like this in my whole life. Not even in Brooklyn.”
- Grandpa tells Durocher, “You’re one of the greatest sports figures in the last 100 years.” Durocher: “Thanks, but I’m not that old.”
- Durocher passes out when he first sees Herman. Grandpa: “You scared him in that black suit, he must have thought you were an umpire.”
- Durocher tells the family he has a business proposition for Herman. Marylin: “I wonder what the business proposition is, Aunt Lilly.” Lilly: “I don’t know, but the last time Herman talked to someone alone, he ended up buying a secondhand Edsel.” Edsel jokes were around for decades, man.
- Herman on the appeal of baseball stardom: “It’s not just the money, Grandpa. I’m looking forward to the fringe benefits. I’ll be able to endorse breakfast foods, and shave on television. I’ll be able to sit in the audience at The Ed Sullivan Show and have him mispronounce my name.”
- Lilly: “Imagine Herman, a grown man of 150 years old, playing baseball with young men of 55 and 60.”
Those are mostly fun. But some of the humor doesn’t hold up, like Durocher describing the Munsters thusly: “The whole family, it’s a weird setup. They all look like a bunch of wetbacks in the petrified forest.”
After all this, Herman gets his tryout, and his ability is off the charts. This is where the awful special effects provide the humor. He breaks the scoreboard with a home run, he grounds a ball deep under the dirt, then hits a ground ball through the third baseman.
The ball tore a hole in the third baseman’s hand. At the very least this should have stopped play immediately, and (presumably) a major league player losing the use of his hand should have been a national scandal. But all the fielder could do is shrug. Maybe players really were tougher in the good old days.
Had he joined the team, Herman Munster would have undoubtedly been the best No. 37 in Dodgers history. Darren Dreifort probably holds that title now, with his nine years, but the pickings are slim. Mike Davis wore 37 when he walked with two outs in the ninth inning of Game 1 of the 1988 World Series, so maybe he’d be the sentimental pick.
Herman proves to be more than good enough to play in the majors, but he’s too good. He knocks over players when running the bases, and throws so hard that the catcher at the tryout pleads to Durocher and walks off the field.
“No, no, no. Forget it, Leo,” he said. “I’m going back to the minors.”
The collateral damage Herman causes proves too much. A call to Walter O’Malley by Durocher reveals that having Munster would cost $75,000 to “put Dodger Stadium in place after every game,” and that no insurance companies would allow the players on the same field as Munster.
So Herman’s baseball dream is dead.
The final scene is that same reporter, now talking with Rams general manager Elroy Hirsch, when a football suddenly conks him on the head. Much like Durocher, Hirsch salivates at the idea of signing the player who threw (or in this case, punted) the ball.
“Take my advice,” the reporter says. “Forget it, if you don’t want to wind up going out of your skull.”