The Yankees were desperate, as outfielder Dave Winfield was facing back issues that would ultimately force him to miss the entire season. But the Indians had dealt Hall – an everyday player with at that point a career .281 batting average – for Skinner, a backup catcher and a minor leaguer? It looked like the latest episode in a sad tradition for the team for really the previous thirty years, since Trader Lane dealt Rocky Colavito and Norm Cash: Deal a talented player in return for some magic beans that weren’t so magical.
But it was a move that was long in coming – and frankly, somewhat of a relief – for the Indians.
Mel Hall came to Cleveland from the Cubs with Joe Carter in the trade for Rick Sutcliffe in 1984. The year before, Hall finished third in National League Rookie of the Year voting, behind Darryl Strawberry and Craig McMurtry. “This is going to be a great deal for Cleveland,” said Tribe President Gabe Paul. “I know that we can’t do anything right, at least according to the media, but believe me when I say this will be a helluva trade in the long run.” (In light of the return the Indians got for Carter six years later, he was spot on with his prediction.) Both Hall and Carter were thought of as young talents with potential, and were named team co-captains – Carter as the good cop and Hall as the bad cop.
Carter lived up to his potential. Hall didn’t. In December 1988, the Indians dealt Julio Franco to Texas, acquiring Oddibe McDowell, Pete O’Brien and Jerry Browne. McDowell was named the starting left fielder. Hall wanted out, and said so in no uncertain terms. Plain Dealer columnist Bob Kravitz wrote in spring training that “Hall has done everything but spit in Hank Peters’ eye this spring.”
A few days before the trade, Hall – who liked to live dangerously – had brought both his wife and girlfriend to the Indians’ spring training hotel, the Viscount Suites, which wasn’t big enough for both of them. They found each other at the pool and fought, as seen by Tribe general manager Hank Peters’ wife and granddaughter. One unnamed player said the fight was the straw that broke the camel’s back, but Hall had made no bones he wanted out of Cleveland for at least the past year.
The Indians put on a good public face about the deal and tried to be as diplomatic as possible. Hall, not so much. “I was so happy I didn’t ask who they got back,” he said.
The Tribe made a flurry of trades that March, dealing Hall for Joel Skinner, Keith Atherton for Carmen Castillo and Felix Fermin for Jay Bell. The deals yielded a net savings of $655,500 – chump change now, but big money in 1989, especially to a team that had a hard time keeping the lights on in the 1970s.
Hall spent four years in the Bronx, where his act wore thin. He threw a tirade in the locker room after then-Yankees manager Stump Merrill benched him against left-handed pitching, and hazed rookie Bernie Williams mercilessly. At Old Timer’s Day in 1992, he looked out at the field and asked then-manager Buck Showalter, “Who are these old f*cking guys?” “That’s when I knew he had to go,” Showalter recounted in a lengthy 2014 story about Hall.
Hall became a free agent following the season, and the combination of talent (or lack thereof) and toxicity meant no one came knocking for him. He spent three years playing in Japan, and made a brief return to MLB with the Giants before being released after about a month.
By then, Skinner – the man he was traded for – was working his way through the minor leagues as a manager. After the 2000 season, he became the Tribe’s third-base coach. He spent about half the 2002 season as interim manager after Charlie Manuel’s firing, then returned to the coaching staff for Eric Wedge, where he’s probably most famous (or notorious) for holding up Kenny Lofton at third base in the deciding game of the 2007 American League Championship Series. He left the team when Manny Acta was named manager In 2009, and has bounced around as a coach and manager since. He’s currently manager of the Rochester Red Wings.
Hall’s post-playing career took a darker turn. In 2007, he was indicted for rape, and two years later was convicted. His victim was a 12-year-old girl who played for a basketball team he coached. He was sentenced to 45 years in prison.
When Hall was convicted, longtime Indians beat writer Paul Hoynes told of the time he wrote about Hall facing a pair of lawsuits: One for child support by his ex-wife, and one between his insurance company and that of Michael Seghi following a 1985 car wreck in Arlington while the Indians were in town to play the Rangers. Seghi, the Indians’ longtime traveling secretary, had been driving the car during the crash, which injured Hall so severely that he only appeared in 23 games that season. The story appeared in a Sunday edition, and later that morning, Hall voiced his displeasure to Hoynes in no uncertain terms. Hoynes said he found himself “at the bottom of Carmen Castillo’s locker with an angry Mel Hall on top of me and Otis Nixon on top of Hall pulling him off me.”