At 6-foot-3 and 260 pounds (or more), burly Joey Meyer could really lay into a ball. The Hawaiian was a very promising minor-league slugger. On June 2, 1987, he unloaded a homer that is still talked about today — a shot into the second deck of the left-center stands at Denver’s Mile High Stadium that a city engineer measured at 582 feet. It is widely regarded as the longest verified home run in professional baseball history.
Alas, Meyer’s career never took off at the highest level. He played just one full season and part of another with the Milwaukee Brewers at the end of the 1980s. His manager with the Brewers, Tom Trebelhorn, observed: “Joey hasn’t had the best of opportunities to establish consistency because he’s been played inconsistently.”1
It was a vicious circle, and the ongoing effort to control his weight factored into it. Meyer remarked, “Back in Hawaii, I can put on 15 pounds in a week. The food is so good, but salty, and the beer goes down too easy.”2 He also noted how the salt in things like teriyaki sauce retains water.3 In the Brewers’ view, yo-yo dieting affected Meyer’s strength.4
Following a year in Japan and one more injury-truncated season in the minors, Meyer’s career was finished, save for a fling in the Hawaiian Winter League that was over as soon as it started. “Baseball’s about being in the right place at the right time,” he said looking back in 2020. “How it looks in your stats isn’t how you think it could have been.”5
Size is in the Meyer family’s genes. Joey’s father, Tanner Joe Meyer Sr., was 6-foot-3 and 270 pounds. Of German and Portuguese descent, he was a fireman in Honolulu. Joey’s mother, Marielena Meyer (née Campos), was of Hawaiian and Spanish descent. She worked as a notary public in a bank.6 Joey (born on May 10, 1962) was the second of two children in the family. His elder sister was named Mari-Jo.7
Born prematurely, Joey weighed just 5 pounds and 8 ounces. “But after that, I was always the biggest kid in my class in school. I weighed as much as 305 when I was playing football. I went to the University of Hawaii on a football scholarship. I was an offensive guard and offensive tackle.”8
Meyer grew up in Kailua, on the windward coast of Oahu, a location known for its bay and beautiful beach. When Joey was young, it was a small town — “a lot different than it is now. Everybody knew everybody.”9
As a boy, the right-handed slugger benefited from a lot of batting practice with his father as pitcher.10 The elder Joe Meyer was a three-sport athlete in high school: football, basketball, and track.11
The Hawaiian baseball community was very tightly knit. Meyer grew up with Sid Fernandez, who was several months younger. He also watched and knew other future major-leaguers who were just a few years older: Carlos Diaz and Joe DeSa. Mike Lum and later Lenn Sakata were established pros who always came back home during the off-seasons and helped out with youth ball.12
Meyer went to quite a few Hawaii Islanders games at Honolulu Stadium when he was young. He regretted that the “Termite Palace” was torn down before he ever got a chance to play there. He remembered that he and his friends used to like to sit along the right field side because more home runs were hit that way.13
Meyer attended the Punahou School, a prestigious private prep school in Honolulu. His father was an assistant football coach there.14 “Growing up, I thought of baseball as something I did when I wasn’t playing football,” said Joey in 2020. Yet he also believed that Punahou became interested in him for its baseball program after observing his youth team in action against Sid Fernandez, who was already attracting a lot of attention as a pitcher.15
The Punahou website describes Meyer as “a towering, intimidating presence on the football field and the baseball diamond. He parlayed his physical strength into numerous All-ILH [Interscholastic League of Hawaii] and All-State selections in both sports, and a total of seven varsity letters.” He became a member of the Punahou Athletic Hall of Fame in March 2019.
The gridiron took a physical toll on Meyer. “I broke my ankle real bad in high school playing football,” he said in 1986. “I felt that if I broke my ankle again, I wouldn’t play again. Football was my favorite sport but, in baseball, you last longer.”16 Following the ankle injury in his sophomore year, he also suffered a damaged knee in his junior year at Punahou when one of his own running backs dived into him.17
Other memories of Meyer in Buff ’n Blue uniform come from teammate Carl Iwasaki, who was one year ahead of “Big Joe” at Punahou. Iwasaki, a baseball lifer who became head coach at the University of Northern Colorado in 2010, said, “We grew up together, and I didn’t know then what a prototypical major-leaguer looked like. But now I can say that I saw just a handful of players from that time who had the talent. Sid Fernandez was one. Joey was another. He was quick-footed for a big man, but it was his bat speed — how quick his hands were. It was special.” Iwasaki also noted the gentle nature that accompanied Meyer’s size.18
Both Meyer and Iwasaki credit longtime Punahou baseball coach Pal Eldredge for setting them on their path in the game. A scout for the Pittsburgh Pirates from 1972-80 who later worked for the Major League Baseball Scouting Bureau, Eldredge talked about Meyer in 2020: “It’s 40 years later and I’m still telling stories about Joey Meyer. He’s a legend.”19
After graduating from Punahou in 1981, Meyer had scholarship offers for football from Arizona State, Michigan State, and Brigham Young University. He was also selected in the eighth round of the June 1981 major-league draft by the California Angels. In hindsight, he regrets not having turned pro in baseball right away. In his view, he would have benefited from spending a couple of years at lower levels while he was younger.20
However, Meyer decided to attend the University of Hawaii at Manoa (the main campus of the system, located in Honolulu). He focused on baseball after spending the summer of 1982 with the Liberal (Kansas) Bee-Jays in National Baseball Congress competition. The Bee-Jays were coached by Bob Cerv, of whom Meyer offered colorful memories.
“Coach Cerv was awesome to play for. Being a player himself, he was tough on you if you acted like a candyass. We traveled in vans and I always jumped in his van – the stories of his Yankee days were amazing to hear. He’s the person that got me started on chewing tobacco — I got sick and he thought it was hilarious. By the end of our summer I was hooked. He was always joking around with somebody. We used to joke with him about his vocabulary, a lot of f-bombs, but when it came to playing the game he was all business. We came close to winning the NBC tournament and it was because he got us to play together and kept everyone relaxed. He was a good skipper!”21
After the NBC tourney ended, Meyer came back home and played in the Hawaii League. Pal Eldredge had a story about this circuit, which featured quite a few collegiate players. One of those was future three-time All-Star pitcher Rick Aguilera, who was then between his sophomore and junior years at Brigham Young (where Eldredge had played in the 1960s). “Joey hit one off Aguilera and we joked with Rick that we’d get him an icepack for his whiplash. I went out there the next day to measure it and it was around 500 feet.”22
In view of these exploits and football injury risk, upon his return to UH, Meyer therefore heard from one of the assistant coaches that football was out.23
Meyer hit 23 homers in two seasons for the Rainbows, despite tough conditions. “Hitting the ball here [in Hawaii] with all the humidity is hard,” he said in 2007. “The ball jumps on the Mainland. [At the old UH Stadium] on a windy night, you could crush one to left field and it would go nowhere.” He also had fond memories of his collegiate coach, Les Murakami, as well as Pal Eldredge.24
Jyun Hirota, a Hawaiian who had played professionally in Japan and coached the Rainbows, was a bird dog for Milwaukee. Hirota tipped scout Ray Poitevint, and the Brewers selected Meyer in the fifth round of the June 1983 amateur draft.25 In the second round, they had chosen another Rainbow: Glenn Braggs. A year previously, Milwaukee had drafted Chuck Crim out of UH. All of them wound up together on the big club.
Because Meyer did not sign until after the 1983 season, he started in the minors in 1984. He enjoyed immediate success with Beloit (Wisconsin) of the Midwest League (Class A). He won the Triple Crown, hitting .320 with 30 homers and 102 RBIs, and Baseball America named him the Midwest League’s Player of the Year. He was also the Brewers’ minor-league player of the year.26
Moving up to El Paso in the Double-A Texas League in 1985, Meyer posted even more potent power numbers — 37 homers and 123 RBIs — to go with a .304 average. One of his homers that summer, in Little Rock, was estimated to have traveled 500 feet. The ball went over the 390-foot mark in dead center, cleared a 60-foot screen behind the fence, and landed on a freeway.27
Following his season with El Paso, Meyer played winter ball in the Dominican Republic with Águilas Cibaeñas. He hit .271 with 7 homers and 34 RBIs in 55 games. “It was a good experience,” he said. “I got to play first base every day. I faced a lot of good pitchers, mostly from the Triple-A level, and this will [sic] help.” However, he left early even though his team had qualified for the playoffs, citing fatigue and the desire to rest before spring training started. Yet after getting back to Hawaii, he took part in a Rainbows alumni game that January.28
Meyer earned a non-roster invitation to big-league camp in 1986. He rose to Vancouver in the Triple-A Pacific Coast League. Early that season, manager Terry Bevington, who had also been Meyer’s skipper at El Paso, said, “His range is okay, and he has very good hands for his size. I don’t want to put any pressure on him but, based on what he’s done in the past, Joey should be good for 25 homers, maybe 30 to 35 in this league. He’s got a good stroke, he’s not just a power hitter. He generates his power with his bat speed.”29
The slugger himself said, “The home runs will come. Hitting .300 is more important to me.” He also was hoping to trim down to around 245 pounds, but noted, “It’s so hard to lose weight because we eat before the game and then we eat late at night after the game. I also like that Canadian beer [the Canadians were sponsored by Molson Breweries], so I try not to eat too much after a game if I have some beer. The trouble is you get pretty drunk on that Canadian beer if you don’t eat.”30
Meyer came close to fulfilling Bevington’s prediction, with 24 homers and 98 RBIs, though his average dipped to .255 after a good start. The organization decided that he would benefit from another year at Triple-A. Weight (reportedly 270-plus) was also cited as an issue going into spring training.31
Meyer played in 1987 for Denver, the new location of the Brewers’ top affiliate, with Bevington again his manager. When the Zephyrs needed a uniform shirt for him, the only one big enough was a souvenir shirt in a Denver sports bar.32
Meyer’s natural power got a turbo boost from the thin Rocky Mountain air. Yet he also displayed his pop on the road, homering in four consecutive at-bats across two games in Des Moines on April 25-26. That set an American Association record.33
A little over a month later came the feat for which Meyer is best remembered. A sparse crowd of just 1,404 was at Mile High on the night of Tuesday, June 2, when the Zephyrs hosted the Buffalo Bisons. In the seventh inning, Mike Murphy (who’d relieved John Farrell) hung a slider. Meyer absolutely crushed it. Video shows that the cameraman lost the trajectory of the ball as it soared above the empty seats.34
Yet Meyer did not admire the flight of his blast. He had his head down and had no idea how far it had traveled until he passed skipper Bevington in the third base coaching box.35
In July 1998, when the All-Star Game was played at Denver’s Coors Field, the Rocky Mountain News contacted Meyer to reminisce about his bomb. “Right before that, I hit one that barely went over the fence. It was a cheapy, and the guys were ribbing me about it. Then I hit the big one.”36 It was the second of three homers that Meyer hit that game. “The next time up,” recalled Denver teammate Steve Stanicek, “they pitched him away so he couldn’t pull it. What’s he do? He hits one the other way. That’s a long shot in that ball park.”37
The Zephyrs had the seat where the ball hit repainted in commemoration. “When they tore the stadium down [in 2002], they said I would get the seat,” Meyer said in 2012. “I never got it. I don’t know what happened.” He never got the bat or the ball either.38 In 2015, Benjamin Hochman of the Denver Post dedicated a lengthy feature to his quest for the original seat, verifying the color in which it was repainted (first green, then orange), and seeking its final destiny (unknown).39
Meyer was having a tremendous year, leading all of the minors in homers with 29 (with 92 RBIs and a .311 average) in just 79 games. But on July 7, he hurt his left hamstring stretching for a throw at first. Upon returning, he appeared in just two more games before reinjuring the muscle on August 3. It was then announced that he would miss the rest of the season.40
Over the winter the leg recovered, though, and Meyer also reported to spring training 1988 at just 257 pounds. A Sporting News feature on him that March focused on his weight fluctuations — but even more on his prodigious power and the Brewers’ high expectations.41 The very next day, noted sportswriter Dave Anderson of the New York Times devoted a feature to Meyer, sounding the same themes.42
Meyer made the Opening Day roster. The plan was for him to be a power-hitting DH, as he had been during most of his four years in the minors. Batting coach Tony Muser observed, “He’s got that short, compact swing for a big man. He’s not a dead pull guy. He’s a big, strong power hitter who has the ability to go to right field.”43
However, veteran star Paul Molitor could not play regularly in the field early in the year, causing a change of plans for the DH role. Milwaukee had another veteran, Greg Brock, at first base. When Brock missed time in June and July, the team used another prospect, Billy Jo Robidoux, at first. Meyer saw regular duty only in the second half of the season after Molitor was ready to play third base. His production was pretty solid given the limited action (.263-11-45 in 327 at-bats).
Based on that showing, Milwaukee hoped for better things from Meyer in ’89. According to Tony Muser, “If he gets in 120 games and hits like he did in the second half of last season, you’re going to see 28 to 30 homers.”44 Meyer never got untracked, though. He was sent back to Denver in early May, prompting him to seek a trade.45 After being recalled in early July, he appeared in only 53 games overall for Milwaukee, batting just .224 with seven round-trippers. The Brewers sprinkled the DH duties among no fewer than 16 players that year. Brock and Terry Francona got the lion’s share of action at first base.
Tom Trebelhorn remembered, “[Meyer] really had some power. I always thought he was a better hitter than Cecil Fielder but he never really made it.” Trebelhorn had a funny anecdote, too. “I recall giving him the delayed steal and he took off and slid into second base, knocking the base about 15 feet into left center field. He was supposed to stop and allow the runner from third to score, but Joey said, ‘the closer he got to second the safer he felt’– so he kept going!”46 This must have been at Seattle on September 10, 1989, because Meyer had just the one steal in the majors. Actually, Greg Vaughn did score on the front end of the double steal.
Meyer then sought his fortunes in Japan, signing with the Taiyo Whales. In 2007, he reminisced, “[Japan] was an experience. They used to come out early to watch me in batting practice. But they never played for the big inning. One run was enough. I remember we ended up with something like 11 ties. I’d never been in a tie game before. And afterward, they were happy about it.”47
With the Whales, Meyer missed a few weeks early in the season after breaking a rib while swinging.48 He got into 104 games and performed creditably (.275-26-77), although he suffered a broken toe in September that left him hobbling toward the schedule’s finish. As it turned out, he was not asked back for the second season of his two-year deal.49 According to a Japanese report the following spring, “Manager Yutaka Sudo…dumped his only bona fide power hitter. Meyer accounted for 26 of the Whales’ 90 home runs…but was let go because he could not play Sudo’s brand of baseball that stresses speed and defense.”50
Mayer had a markedly different recollection, which stemmed from his foot injury. “I hit a ball off my toe and drove the nail into it. They drilled a hole to relieve the pressure, but it was three times its normal size, and they cut a hole in my shoe. We were playing on turf and it hurt too much, so I took myself out. Sudo-san said in Japanese that I had no guts, and I told him to f— himself. Then he told me the same thing — in English.”51
As Meyer remembered, the Hanshin Tigers wanted him, but the Taiyo organization would not release him to a rival club. He wanted to get back to the United States, anyway, feeling that his business there was unfinished.52
Upon returning to the States, he found the Minnesota Twins interested in his services. He signed a Triple-A contract with the Twins’ affiliate in Portland in January 1991.53 “Power like his is hard to come by,” said Minnesota’s minor-league director, Jim Rantz. As before, Meyer worked to get his weight back down to 260.54
The Pittsburgh Pirates organization acquired Meyer in early April for outfielder Greg Sims. He played with Buffalo, by then the Pirates’ Triple-A affiliate. Early that season, the big club called a first baseman up from the Bisons — but it was Orlando Merced rather than Meyer.
Nonetheless, he kept his hopes up. “If I show them I can play first base, they’ll have confidence in me,” he said near the end of April. “I’ve never played in the National League. I think lots of teams think of me as a one-dimensional player, a designated hitter like I was with Milwaukee. I’ve got to show them I’m not.”55
Meyer was hitting .250 with 6 homers and 35 RBIs in 75 games when he suffered a troublesome injury for a hitter — a stress fracture in his wrist.56 “I tried to rush back and I broke it again,” he said.57 Meyer never played in the minors again.
After a three-year layoff, however, the 32-year-old gave it a shot in 1994 as a player-coach with the Honolulu Sharks in the Hawaii Winter League.58 But in his very first at-bat, against the Maui Stingrays, he broke the same wrist for a third time. The doctors then told him it was beyond repair. Meyer still expressed regret more than a quarter-century later — but for his community rather than himself. “I felt like I disappointed a lot of people. Hawaii is such a small place, you feel like you’re playing for everybody.”59
Carl Iwasaki, who was working for the Sharks as well and had encouraged the comeback, added that Meyer had to step back because of family commitments.60 From December 1994 through November 2012, he was an assistant manager at Jacobsen Labor Services Landscaping Nursery, a business located in Waimanalo, in eastern Oahu. His job duties were described in 2007 as municipal maintenance supervisor, overseeing painting, construction, and landscaping work for Tripler Army Medical Center, which Jacobsen served on contract.61
As of 2021, Meyer was a security guard at Maui Health, a position he had held since November 2014. He was living in the Maui town of Kula, along with his wife, Piilani (née Fernandez). They moved there from Oahu to care for her ailing father, and the job also provided insurance benefits for the couple.62
Joey and Piilani, who met in the early ’90s after he’d been divorced, were married in 1996. From his previous marriage to Chamaigne Hookala, Joey had four children: son T.J. and daughters Chelsea (Kehau), Courtney, and Chaena. Piilani had three sons of her own: Alii, Kalani, and Nui. The kids in the blended family had all known each other and got along well. As of December 2020, Meyer had 14 grandchildren and even one great-grandchild on the way.63
Meyer had helped coach youth baseball on Oahu.64 On Maui, he still trains a kid here and there, but family responsibilities take priority. H e still watches big-league games but is skeptical about concepts such as “launch angle” and whether today’s pitchers actually throw any harder than those he faced. In Meyer’s view, the measurement technology has just gotten better.65
Joey Meyer was proud to have played with two future Hall of Famers in Milwaukee: Molitor and Robin Yount.66 Asked to reflect on his own baseball career in 2012, he told Irv Moss of the Denver Post, “I wish I had taken it more seriously in the offseason and trained harder. I probably should have stayed on the mainland and trained with some of the other players. I wish I could have played in the major leagues a little longer. But the older I get, I realize I had a chance and that it was a great honor.”67
Last revised: January 31, 2021
This biography was reviewed by Warren Corbett and Jan Finkel and fact-checked by David Kritzler.
Mahalo to the following people:
Joey Meyer for sharing his memories — telephone interview with Rory Costello, December 17, 2020 and subsequent e-mails;
Carl Iwasaki — telephone interview with Rory Costello, December 18, 2020;
Pal Eldredge — telephone interview with Rory Costello, December 22, 2020;
Donna L. Ching (Punahou ’80) for the contact with Coach Iwasaki, as well as her ongoing support of the BioProject’s effort to cover Hawaiian players.
Joey Meyer’s profile on LinkedIn.com.
Punahou School website (www.punhaou.edu)
University of Hawaii Athletics website (hawaiiathletics.com)
Dominican stats courtesy of winterballdata.com.
1 “Brewer notes,” Janesville (Wisconsin) Gazette, April 14, 1989: 59.
2 “Guthrie Can’t Rely on Quality ’90 Work,” The Sporting News, March 11, 1991: 26.
3 Del Jones, “Meyer a stunning Diablo hit,” El Paso Times, July 21, 1985: 57.
4 “Notebook: Brewers,” The Sporting News, January 11, 1989: 43.
5 Joey Meyer, telephone interview with Rory Costello, December 17, 2020 (hereafter Meyer-Costello interview).
6 Dave Anderson, “Sports of the Times,” The New York Times, March 22, 1988: A27.
7 Tanner Joe Meyer, Sr. obituary, Honolulu Star-Advertiser, January 10, 2016.
8 Anderson, “Sports of the Times.”
9 Meyer-Costello interview.
10 Bob Hogue, “Catching Up with a Big Hitter,” Midweek (Honolulu, Hawaii), January 17, 2007.
11 Tanner Joe Meyer, Sr. obituary.
12 Meyer-Costello interview.
13 Meyer-Costello interview.
14 Tanner Joe Meyer, Sr. obituary.
15 Meyer-Costello interview.
16 Gyle Konotopetz, “Slugger wants to trim waist and fatten batting average,” Calgary Herald, April 26, 1986: 84.
17 Meyer-Costello interview.
18 Carl Iwasaki, telephone interview with Rory Costello, December 18, 2020 (hereafter Iwasaki-Costello interview). Iwasaki also mentioned another University of Hawaii player, Keith Komeiji, who was a first-round pick of the Seattle Mariners in the January 1983 draft but did not advance beyond Class A.
19 Pal Eldredge, telephone interview with Rory Costello, December 22, 2020 (hereafter Eldredge-Costello interview).
20 Meyer-Costello interview.
21 E-mail from Joey Meyer to Rory Costello, December 26, 2020.
22 Eldredge-Costello interview.
23 Meyer-Costello interview.
24 Hogue, “Catching Up with a Big Hitter.”
25 Information on the scouts involved comes from Meyer’s 1988 Topps baseball card.
26 Tom Flaherty, “Brewers Sign Japanese Hill Star,” The Sporting News, January 14, 1985: 52.
27 “Minor League: Brewers,” The Sporting News, June 10, 1985: 38.
28 Al Chase, “Homecoming tilt for ex-Rainbows,” Honolulu Star-Bulletin, January 15, 1986: 35.
29 Konotopetz, “Slugger wants to trim waist and fatten batting average.”
30 Konotopetz, “Slugger wants to trim waist and fatten batting average.”
31 Stan Isle, “Brewers’ Shed-the-Flab Order Carries Weight,” The Sporting News, February 2, 1987: 10.
32 Anderson, “Sports of the Times.” This may be why Meyer’s inform number with Denver was 0.
33 “Dawson Decks Old Mates,” The Sporting News, May 4, 1987: 33.
34 Benjamin Hochman, “The mystery behind Joey Meyer’s 582-foot home run at Mile High in 1987,” Denver Post, July 17, 2015.
35 Brian Metzler, “A Blast from the Past,” Rocky Mountain News, June 2, 2007.
36 “At Least the Memory Lives,” The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, July 18, 1998. This article cited the original, which is not presently available.
37 Tom Flaherty, “Brewers Have Hefty Expectations for Meyer,” The Sporting News, March 21, 1988: 32.
38 Irv Moss, “Joey Meyer still carries clout, thanks to huge home run in 1987,” Denver Post, June 26, 2012.
39 Hochman, “The mystery behind Joey Meyer’s 582-foot home run.”
40 “Brewers’ Meyer injured,” Wausau (Wisconsin) Daily Herald, August 7, 1987: 11. “Around the Minors: Brewers,” The Sporting News, August 24, 1987: 39.
41 Flaherty, “Brewers Have Hefty Expectations for Meyer.”
42 Dave Anderson, “Sports of the Times,” The New York Times, March 22, 1988: A27.
43 “‘Can’t miss’ kids strive to make connection,” Detroit Free Press, April 4, 1988: 40.
44 Cliff Christl, “More Play for DH Meyer,” The Sporting News, March 13, 1989: 28.
45 “Around the Minors: Brewers,” The Sporting News, June 5, 1989: 25.
46 Letter from Tom Trebelhorn to Rory Costello, September 2000.
47 Hogue, “Catching Up with a Big Hitter.”
48 “Meyer Ready to Return,” Honolulu Advertiser, April 29, 1990: 5.
49 Stephen Tsai, “Meyer Released by Taiyo Whales,” Honolulu Advertiser, November 15, 1990: C1.
50 Jim Nishi, “1991 Japan Baseball Preview,” The Daily Yomiuri, April 5, 1991: 5.
51 Meyer-Costello interview.
52 Meyer-Costello interview.
53 “Arbitration Hassles Unlikely for Twins,” The Sporting News, January 28, 1991: 40.
54 “Guthrie Can’t Rely on Quality ’90 Work.”
55 George Rorrer, “Minus Three Key Players, Birds Lose to Bisons,” Louisville Courier-Journal, April 29, 1991: 1D.
56 “Winter Baseball,” Honolulu Advertiser, October 4, 1994: 32.
57 Meyer-Costello interview.
58 “Winter Baseball.”
59 Meyer-Costello interview.
60 Iwasaki-Costello interview.
61 Metzler, “A Blast from the Past.” Meyer-Costello interview.
62 Meyer-Costello interview.
63 Meyer-Costello interview.
64 Moss, “Joey Meyer Still Carries Clout.”
65 Meyer-Costello interview.
66 Hogue, “Catching Up with a Big Hitter.”
67 Moss, “Joey Meyer Still Carries Clout.”