Splitsider

Wednesday, November 6th, 2013

'Go to Hell, Mike Piazza': The Ben Stiller/Mike Piazza Baseball Comedy That Never Was


"The Script Pile" is a biweekly column on Splitsider that takes a look at the screenplays for high-profile movie and TV comedies that never made it to the screen.

In 2001, hot on the heels of major hits There's Something About Mary and Meet the Parents, Ben Stiller became arguably the biggest comedic movie star going. In the heat of this success, Stiller almost made a movie called Go to Hell, Mike Piazza, in which he would have played a guy who's hellbent on ruining the life of the famous MLB catcher, who he grew up with – and Mike Piazza was close to co-starring in the movie as himself.

Stiller has made some pretty unconventional movies over the years — stuff like Flirting with Disaster and The Cable Guy (which he directed) have slipped in amid more mainstream fare, with projects like Zoolander and Tropic Thunder falling in between the former and the latter — but due to Stiller's unusually evil protagonist and the use of a major athlete playing himself in a big role, Go to Hell, Mike Piazza was poised to be one of the weirdest (and funniest) comedies he ever made.

The draft of the script I have opens on superstar catcher Mike Piazza playing a game for the New York Mets in 1998 when a naked guy runs onto the field. With the words "Piazza sucks" painted across his chest and "Piazza can kiss my ass" on his back (with an arrow downward, of course), the naked guy screams at Piazza as he kicks dirt at him and avoids security while the crowd cheers him on. We freeze frame and hear a voiceover: "Wait, maybe I should start from the beginning…"

Stiller's character, Remy "Slider" Thompson, the naked man on the field, then explains how he got to that point and what he has against Mike Piazza. Remy and Piazza were classmates growing up in Pennsylvania. Piazza was great at everything and well-liked, overshadowing Remy. Since they were born on the same day, Thompson's birthday parties were always empty because everyone was at the wildly popular Piazza's parties. Piazza stole Thompson's girlfriend, and worst of all, when they were 12, Piazza's team beat Thompson's team at the Pennsylvania Little League Championship, putting an end to Thompson's promising career as a pitcher.

Having given up on baseball, Remy is now a 30-something sausage vendor who's elated to open up his own hot dog restaurant at Dodger Stadium, only to have Mike Piazza transferred there and his restaurant shut down as a result of the team spending so much money to get Piazza. Remy then moves and spends several years opening a restaurant at The Mets' Shea Stadium, only to have the same thing happen. "At that moment," he explains, "I decided to dedicate the rest of my existence to ruining the life of Mike Piazza."

Stiller's character – a losery hot dog vendor who's going through a divorce, is seeing his hot dog business fail, and is completely consumed with hatred for Mike Piazza – is one of the most pathetic protagonists I've ever seen in a mainstream comedy and it might have been hard to get cineplex viewers onboard with him. Stiller's anti-hero is so focused on getting vengeance on Piazza that he almost feels like his villainous Dodgeball/Heavyweights characters at times, but he's almost such a tragic character and such an underdog that you can't help but root for him.

Remy Thompson sees a big opportunity to finally get his revenge on Mike Piazza in the form of an ESPN baseball trivia contest. The winner of said contest will get to appear on national TV at the year's All-Star game for a chance to pitch against their favorite All-Star for a cash prize. With his sights set on striking out Piazza with his unique slider pitch, Remy dominates the trivia competition. The media gets wind of Remy's history with Piazza, and when Remy and Piazza competitively vow to donate their winnings to charity, this becomes a huge story. Remy provokes Piazza into losing his cool during a couple public appearances, damaging his reputation and start to hurt his career. It looks like he's finally turned the tables on Piazza.

With the help of his best friend Bam (a supporting role that would have probably gone to one of Stiller's peers like Jack Black or Owen Wilson) and a Clarissa, Piazza's jilted ex-girlfriend whom Remy meets when toilet papering the MLB star's house, Remy preps for his big chance to finally strike out Mike Piazza in front of millions of people. Here's how that goes:

Remy's pitch hurts Piazza so bad that it takes him a month to regain basic motor functions and three months to get back on the baseball field. Remy is arrested but quickly let go so as not to make the MLB look bad. Remy's best friend Bam grabs the ball and sells it for $200,000 on eBay as "the Mike Piazza death ball." Remy uses the money to get out of debt and save his business, giving the rest to a children's hospital (only to have Piazza donate an even larger amount right afterward).

The script ends with sports manager Tommy Lasorda, who's a big fan of Remy's hot dogs, talking Mike Piazza into investing in Remy's restaurant, Slider's Sausages. Piazza and Remy are finally working together, and they're equals for once — at least in the restaurant, which is now called "Piazza's Sausage Place."

Go to Hell, Mike Piazza was a spec script (a non-commissioned, unsolicited screenplay) by David Rotman and Ryan Oxford, who wrote it under the pen names J.J. Kanutsen and Milton Manoon for some reason. Rotman and Oxford sold the script to Universal  and Ben Stiller was attached to star and produce in the spring of 2001. "We wrote it expressly for Ben," Oxford said at the time, "He has this great ability to play characters who feel slighted by the world — when they really are not — and who become obsessed by that." The movie was set to be Stiller's first starring role after Zoolander and The Royal Tenenbaums, with the studio eyeing Jon Turteltaub (National Treasure) to direct. Directors Jay Roach (Meet the Parents), Tom Shadyac (Bruce Almighty), and Todd Phillips (The Hangover) were also considered for the job, but no director was ever attached.

Mike Piazza was never formally signed on for the project, but he's the biggest character in the movie besides Stiller and figures prominently into the story. Piazza seemed interested when talking to Sports Illustrated at the time, saying, "It's flattering to have your name out there. It's kind of like Being John Malkovich." He did have an issue with the title though, explaining, "My mom's kind of upset with the title. If they were to approach me, I'd have to ask for something a little more subtle. I'm a Catholic boy."

Casting a Major League Baseball player with no acting experience in a big part in a comedy seems risky, but Piazza would have been playing himself and the script didn't call for him to do much more than sit there and say the occasional line while Stiller and the rest of the cast act.

David Rotman and Ryan Oxford, who had never written a major movie and haven't since (Rotman produced '90s films Cliffhanger and DragonHeart), crafted a sharp and funny script here, and it's one that sports fans and non-sports alike would have been able to enjoy. Go to Hell, Mike Piazza would have been a nice vehicle for Stiller post-Meet the Parents, and the hard-R script had an edge to it that most mainstream comedies lack, in addition to the catchy title/casting gimmick with Piazza. With the project now dormant for several years and Piazza's baseball career long over, Go to Hell, Mike Piazza will probably never be made and we'll never get to see Mike Piazza act in a big Hollywood comedy, which isn't necessarily a bad thing.

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