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A blast from the past

After 20 years, Meyer's 582-foot home run at Mile High hard to forget

Published June 2, 2007 at midnight

Two decades have passed, but Joey Meyer still can see Mark Murphy's plump slider hanging in front of his eyes at Mile High Stadium.

On the evening of June 2, 1987, the behemoth designated hitter for the Triple-A Denver Zephyrs took a mighty cut at that pitch and whacked it into the upper deck of the stadium's east stands beyond the left-center field wall.

The seventh-inning home run, the second of three Meyer hit in a 14-7 win against the Buffalo Bisons that night, later was calculated at 582 feet by city engineer Jerry Tennyson. Twenty years later, it remains the longest home run ever hit in Denver and one of the longest blasts in baseball history.

"I was in the dugout when he hit it, and I'll never forget it," said Denver native Mark Knudson, a former Zephyrs pitcher who played eight years in the big leagues. "You know those buttons on the top of a baseball cap? I stood up so quickly that I hit that button on the top of the dugout and almost put a hole in my head. That was the kind of reaction that everybody had in the dugout. No one believed what they had just seen. It was absolutely incredible."

"I was just in disbelief when I saw it," echoes Norm Jones, who worked in the Zephyrs radio booth for eight years. "He was a big man, and from that perspective you understood he had the strength to hit a ball a long way. But to hit one there was just an incredible blast."

Calling Meyer big is an understatement. At the time, he stood 6-foot-3, tipped the scales at about 270 pounds and had arms like Popeye and legs like tree trunks. Yet he possessed an unassuming demeanor that contradicted his Ruthian physique and tape-measure home runs. He didn't watch the flight of the ball as he circled the bases and didn't have any idea how far it traveled until he passed manager Terry Bevington in the third base coaching box.

When Meyer came up in the eighth inning, with the sparse crowd of 1,404 giddy with excitement, he victimized Murphy again, this time with a 400-foot opposite-field homer. He began his homer barrage when he hit a 335-foot flyball off starter John Farrell that narrowly cleared the left-field stands in the fourth.

Where has Meyer gone?

That monumental night was a lifetime ago, for Meyer and for Denver baseball. The Zephyrs, who formerly had been known as the Denver Bears from 1947 to 1984, left for New Orleans after the 1992 season to make room for the expansion Rockies. Long since retired from baseball, Meyer, 45, is a municipal maintenance supervisor in Honolulu, overseeing painting, construction and landscaping work for a local hospital system.

Still, he remembers in vivid detail the home run he sent crashing into Seat 9 in Row 3 of Section 338. He swung a 35-inch, 33-ounce Adirondack bat formerly owned by Cal Ripken that teammate Donnie Scott brought over from the Orioles organization in a recent trade.

"After the first one I hit, someone on the Bisons was yelling and asking me if I was going to take that," Meyer recalled this week. "You know, like it was cheating because of the thin air in Denver. So when I hit the monster home run the next time up, without saying anything, that was my answer to that. Maybe the first one got there because of the light air, but not that one."

In the late 1980s, Denver was a minor league town trying to become a major league city. Despite a growing community interest in obtaining a big league franchise, the Zephyrs were like many other midmarket minor league teams that drew sparse crowds on most nights and thrived on zany promotions.

The day before Meyer's prolific night, the Zephyrs staged a cow-milking contest between pitchers Don August and Farrell. The day after Meyer's colossal homer, another promotion offered free tickets to anyone wearing a bikini. Those gimmicks didn't pack the stadium, but the team's annual July 4 fireworks show typically drew 50,000 fans.

Meyer's three-homer night gave him 14 for the season, tops in the American Association at the time. It also ignited a buzz around the metro area and throughout the league that gave Meyer folk hero status for a few weeks that summer.

He was called the Round Mound of Downtown by a newspaper columnist. Bank signs that previously displayed time and temperature started posting his home run totals. And occasionally a few of the Broncos would stop by the clubhouse to say hello after watching a game.

To commemorate the historic home run, Zephyrs general manager Robert Howsam Jr. tied a 40-inch helium balloon to the seat during the next several days and eventually had the blue chair painted orange.

A shot at the big leagues

By early July, when Meyer was hitting .311 and already had 29 home runs and 92 RBI, the Milwaukee Brewers wanted him in the big leagues. But he suffered a badly torn hamstring while stretching for a throw at first base July 7 and wound up missing the rest of the season.

"He had some tremendous power," said Bevington, recalling another big home run Meyer hit during a Double-A game in Little Rock, Ark. "It's too bad he got hurt, because he was having a great season. His weight might have been his biggest problem. He was a big man, and it was always a battle to stay around 260 or so."

Meyer was a strapping youngster when he started playing Little League in Honolulu in the early 1970s. But as he developed at the University of Hawaii and in the minor leagues, he became a soft- handed first baseman with a compact swing.

He was slow and wasn't a selective hitter - he averaged a strikeout every four at-bats in the minor leagues - but the Brewers were enticed by his fence-busting power.

When he made it to big leagues in 1988, the Brewers were led by future Hall of Famers Robin Yount and Paul Molitor. Meyer became the team's regular designated hitter and provided plenty of pop as the team won 22 of its final 31 games and nearly stole the Eastern Division title.

Although he struck out 88 times in 327 at-bats, he led all American League rookies in extra-base hits, with 29, and 45 RBI and provided some clutch efforts.

On Aug. 9 that season, in the first game of a twilight doubleheader against the Boston Red Sox, Meyer struck out twice in his first three appearances against 26- year-old Roger Clemens, already a two- time Cy Young Award winner. But he redeemed himself leading off the bottom of the ninth by knocking the first pitch he saw - it was a 95-mph Clemens fastball - into the right-field seats to seal a 3-2 Brewers win.

Meyer split time between Denver and Milwaukee in 1989 and finished the season with a .224 average and only seven home runs. With the emergence of Greg Vaughn, Gary Sheffield and other young players, he became expendable.

After a frustrating 1990 campaign in Japan, Meyer spent the next season with Buffalo, which had switched from a Cleveland Indians farm team to an affiliate of the Pittsburgh Pirates. He showed glimpses of his legendary power, but his increased weight took a toll on his effectiveness before a broken wrist ended his career.

"Even to this day, if I play golf, my wrist swells up and I can't use it for a couple of weeks," he said. "I hit groundballs to my grandkids, but I've got to be careful because it can hurt pretty bad and really affect my work for a while."

His 'second chance'

Meyer enjoys reminiscing about his playing days, but he says he never talks about his past unless he's asked. He prefers to brag about his seven children, who range in age from 13 to 25, and two young grandchildren. His oldest daughter is attending Notre Dame on an academic scholarship, and one of his sons is training to be a U.S. Marshal. This spring, he helped coach his 6-year-old grandson's Little League team.

"What I'm kind of noticing now with my grandkids are all the things I missed with my own kids when they were growing up," he said. "I was away most of the time playing somewhere, so this is kind of a second chance for me."

Despite a disappointing end to his playing days and an ugly divorce that separated him from most of his baseball memorabilia, Meyer still has the same laid-back demeanor he had as a young ballplayer. About the only thing he has from his baseball career is a championship ring from the Zephyrs' 1987 American Association regular-season title.

Still, he says he's not bitter. He knows, even if all too briefly, he lived the fantasy that millions of children dream about from the first time they pick up a baseball.

"The older you get, the more you appreciate it," he said. "Even though I played more years in the minor leagues than in the big leagues, it was great. The travel and the camaraderie with my teammates and all that are things I'll never forget. It was the greatest experience of my life."

Where's the seat?

Joey Meyer's historic 582-foot home run June 2, 1987, landed in Seat 9 in Row 3 of Section 338 in the upper deck of the east stands of Mile High Stadium. The seat was painted orange to commemorate the blast and set it off from the sea of blue seats that surrounded it.

The seat remained orange until the last days of Mile High Stadium, but the whereabouts of it are unknown. Before the 2002 demolition of the stadium, Meyer says, he received a phone call from someone who suggested it was going to be shipped to him in Honolulu. "But they never sent it, or at least I never got it," Meyer said this week.

Is someone sitting in Joey's orange chair? Is it in a warehouse in Denver? Or on someone's patio in Littleton?

Matt Sugar, former spokesman for the Metropolitan Football Stadium District, and now the director of communications at Winter Park Resort, helped coordinate a hard-target search for the seat this week, searching records of season-ticket holders who purchased seats and checking with anyone who might have the historic seat.

Officials within the Broncos, Rockies, Colorado Sports Hall of Fame and the Theatres & Arenas division of the City & County of Denver's Department of General Services couldn't provide any answers, either.

"We've looked all over," Sugar said. "But we can't find any record of who might have it or where it might be."

Brian Metzler

Career statistics

Joey Meyer averaged a home run every 16 at-bats in the minor leagues but one every 10.2 at-bats during his prolific but injury-shortened season with the Denver Zephyrs in 1987.

Year Team G AB R H 2B HR RBI AVG SLG

1984 Beloit (Single-A) 128 475 73 152 22 30 102 .320 .556

1985 El Paso (Double-A) 131 506 79 154 17 37 123 .304 .565

1986 Vancouver (Triple-A) 126 451 65 115 16 24 98 .255 .450

1987 Denver (Triple-A) 79 296 58 92 23 29 92 .311 .682

1988 Milwaukee (AL) 103 327 22 86 18 11 45 .263 .419

1989 Denver (Triple-A) 41 146 20 41 10 9 37 .281 .534

1989 Milwaukee (AL) 53 147 13 33 6 7 29 .224 .408

1991 Buffalo (Triple-A) 75 292 27 73 13 6 35 .250 .370

The myth of the tape-measure home run

As much as baseball fans salivate over impressive figures reported on SportsCenter, the distances of tape-measure home runs often are as arbitrary as football players' 40-yard dash times. Determining the distance of a home run still is more make-believe than exact science.

First of all, home run measurements typically are based on the distance a ball theoretically would have traveled if not obstructed by a feature inside or outside the stadium. Plus, calculations are based on estimated figures for trajectory, pitch speed, bat speed and atmospheric conditions.

For the record, the longest home run hit at Coors Field is a 496-foot blast by former Los Angeles Dodgers catcher Mike Piazza on Sept. 26, 1997.

Below is a sampling of some of the longest home runs in baseball history. Some have been authenticated by studies or complicated measurements. A few are the creation of baseball public relations departments. Others merely are part of baseball lore.

734 feet: Mickey Mantle, New York Yankees, May 22, 1963, Yankee Stadium: The calculation is based on the false notion that the ball still was going up when it hit the right-field upper-deck facade. Others have estimated it to be in the 600-foot range.

650 feet: Mantle, New York Yankees, June 11, 1953, Briggs Stadium, Detroit: Some witnesses say this blast ricocheted off the light tower on the right-field roof, while others say that it cleared the roof.

650 feet: Reggie Jackson, Oakland A's, July 13, 1971, Tiger Stadium, Detroit (All-Star Game): Similar to Mantle's '53 blast, but the distance was derived from a study conducted by Wayne State University.

582 feet: Joey Meyer, Denver Zephyrs, June 2, 1987, Mile High Stadium, Denver (Triple-A game): City of Denver engineer Jerry Tennyson calculated the distance based on a pitch speed of 90 mph and the fact the ball landed 52 feet above ground level and 440 feet from home plate.

565 feet: Mantle, New York Yankees, April 17, 1953, Griffith Stadium, Washington D.C.: The figure was derived from the distance from home plate to the place where a neighborhood child said the ball allegedly landed.

545 feet: Mark McGwire, St. Louis Cardinals, May 16, 1998, Busch Stadium, St. Louis: One of the biggest blasts of the ESPN era. It was recalculated by hittracker-online.com to be "only" 470 feet.

530 feet: Dave Kingman, New York Mets, April 14, 1976, Wrigley Field, Chicago: The blast that sailed across Waveland Avenue originally was calculated by The New York Times to be 630 feet.

529 feet: Andres Galarraga, Rockies, May 31, 1997, Pro Player Stadium, Miami: The Big Cat's grand slam, the longest home run in Rockies history, originally was estimated at 579 feet.Sources: The Baseball Almanac; Rockies; Themick.Com; Hittrackeronline.Com

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