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Remember Mike Piazza on Baywatch? ... No?

A one-minute scene worth a lifetime of 1990's glory
(Art by Tom Forget)
@MattMono11
September 9, 2020

"Ah yes, the legendary -- the cult status of the Baywatch appearance," Mike Piazza says, laughing over the phone. It's been 19 years since Piazza's post-9/11 home run, it's been 16 since he broke the record for the most career long balls by a catcher, it's been 13 since he

"Ah yes, the legendary -- the cult status of the Baywatch appearance," Mike Piazza says, laughing over the phone.

It's been 19 years since Piazza's post-9/11 home run, it's been 16 since he broke the record for the most career long balls by a catcher, it's been 13 since he hit his last big league homer (he did it while playing for the A's at Fenway Park, really).

But this isn't about any of those baseball moments. This isn't really about baseball at all.

This is about the time the entire decade of the 1990s was bottled up, shaken and poured over our collective heads. Historians will cite it when asked how to describe pop culture at the time. It's almost too much '90s nostalgia to handle.

Young, rising Dodgers superstar Mike Piazza cast alongside world-famous model/actress Pamela Anderson in the uber-popular, internationally syndicated television show "Baywatch."

The one-minute scene aired 25 years ago, and although Piazza had fun doing it, he thought it might just evaporate into the ether after he filmed it.

"Maybe in the long run, I thought it would disappear," he tells me. "You know, into the bowels of a cut room somewhere -- never to see the light of day."

Thankfully, for all of us, it didn't. And a viral Twitter post brought it back to the world this past August, giving us something to smile about in a tumultuous 2020. So, flip on some relevant music and read the story behind the scene.

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Piazza was already a baseball giant by the time the "Deep Trouble" episode was shot in August 1994. He was a star in the star-obsessed land of Los Angeles County.

The 24-year-old was coming off a 35-homer NL Rookie of the Year campaign, he made his first of 10 straight All-Star teams, and he was called one of America's greatest success stories.

"Baywatch" was also in its heyday around that time. More than one billion people had tuned into the show weekly in 1993. It aired in 148 countries and was translated into 44 different languages. It was also conveniently filmed just 20 minutes from Dodger Stadium -- down at Will Rogers State Beach.

It was a perfect match; a cameo on TV's hottest series was the next logical step for Piazza. And there wasn't much to it: Pamela Anderson's character, C.J. Parker, walks off her lifeguard tower to find Piazza (playing himself) practicing his swing in his white Dodgers jersey on the beach. Suddenly, a woman cries out from the ocean, struggling in the current, and Piazza joins C.J. to help rescue her.

The Dodgers catcher had some downtime to do the cameo: baseball was in the midst of a labor strike in '94. And, well, Piazza had a special connection to the show.

"The girl that was in the scene, I was dating her," Piazza says.

Yes, the woman Piazza helped Pamela Anderson save from drowning was his girlfriend in real life.

Her name is Anita Hart. She's an actress who's had a long career as a stunt double for starlets like Elizabeth Hurley and Brooke Shields. She was appearing on Baywatch at the time, and her boyfriend dropped by the set to check things out.

"Somehow, the conversation came up when I was watching her work and the producer and I started kicking the idea around," Piazza remembers. "My agent thought it would be a great opportunity for PR. And yeah, it was during the strike, so boredom was probably starting to set in as well. I really had fun with it, though."

As you can probably tell by the one minute of footage, Piazza says there's not much depth or thought that was really put into the scene. When you have two larger-than-life stars, what more do you really need? It only took a few takes and directors "weren't really looking for any dramatic improvements." The moment with Anderson was shot first and then the rescue scene that involved "saving Anita from four feet of water" was shot second.

"I mean, I think the producer thought it would just be tongue-and-cheek kinda funny," he says. "It was definitely just something we were fooling around with and having fun. I will say, the show was successful for a reason. They were very regimented. We knocked it out pretty fast. Truth be told, I was kinda impressed with everything that went down ... even though I wouldn't put my performance up there with 'Raging Bull' or anything."

You also might be wondering why Piazza couldn't just wear his baseball cap on the beach and instead went full-out with his jersey.

Well, Piazza wondered why too, and show creators had an answer for him.

"Yeah, the jersey looked a little dorky," Piazza says, laughing. "[Producers] said the show is worldwide, so people in like Lithuania or Turkey aren't gonna know who you are. We have to make you look like a professional baseball player."

Piazza says he enjoyed meeting and working with Anderson -- he'd also star alongside her a year later in another dripping-with-'90s-nostalgia-moment: MTV's Rock N' Jock Baseball game. She was an international celebrity at that point -- her role as lifeguard C.J. Parker had launched her into superstardom. Her red bathing suit has since been auctioned off for hundreds of dollars on eBay, she once said, "'Baywatch' happened, and then everything else kind of just happened, and I got married, and rock stars, and kids."

Friends, of course, asked repeatedly if Piazza went out with her, which he says never happened.

The Dodgers catcher did get some major gratitude from the King of Baywatch Beach: David Hasselhoff. The Hoff wasn't there on set that day, but he called Piazza and thanked him for doing the show -- saying he was a big fan of the All-Star. They'd also meet up and chat about the appearance at award shows in L.A.

What did teammates think of the appearance?

"Eric Karros definitely hammered me on it," Piazza recalls. "If you don't get criticized on a team, then they probably don't like you. [The Dodgers] definitely had their fun with me."

Piazza would star on the big and small screens in future years -- you may recall his Pert Plus commercials or his cameo (along with Tsuyoshi Shinjo!) in Sandra Bullock's movie "Two Weeks Notice." But the "Baywatch" role has to be the most memorable. It's very close to his heart: Piazza's wife, Alicia, is a former actress on the show -- she made appearances in the early 2000s. And his performance is one friends continue to remind him about nearly every day.

"I mean, look at the way people still respond to it, it's pretty funny," Piazza says. "I've really enjoyed interacting with people on social media about it. It's cool."

And the man who has nearly every baseball honor you can get -- 12 All-Star nods, 10 Silver Sluggers, a Rookie of the Year trophy and a plaque in the Hall of Fame -- is still looking for one more.

"Oh yeah, I'm still waiting for my Golden Globe or Emmy," Piazza laughs.

Matt Monagan is a writer for MLB.com. In his spare time, he travels and searches Twitter for Wily Mo Peña news.