SB Nation

Greg Hanlon | July 15, 2014

The many crimes of Mel Hall

He was a flamboyant player, a charismatic coach, and a sexual predator

The Many Crimes of Mel Hall

He was a flamboyant player, a charismatic coach, and a sexual predator

*Editor's Note

Chapter One: The Player

June 11, 1989. Spring fever for 15-year-old Jennifer Diaz* and her friends. Freshman year was winding down. It was Andrea's* birthday, and Andrea's father had driven Jennifer, his daughter and a group of girls down from Connecticut to a doubleheader at Yankee Stadium. A brilliant June day, right field line seats, front row.

It's a bad view of the game, but it put them on top of the field, especially close to the Yankees' 28-year-old right fielder, Mel Hall. Each time he jogged out to his position between innings to warm up, the girls would ask him to toss them a ball. Hall would fake as if he would, but then he wouldn't, and then he'd smile at them. This went on, inning after inning. Typical Hall: He was playful and mischievous, lacking the aloofness of most ballplayers, somehow more accessible and fun loving. Often, when they played the Red Sox, as they were on this day, he'd wear a T-shirt underneath his jersey saying, "Boston Sucks."

He toyed with the girls all game long — "You want the ball?" — but never gave them one. When Hall moved from right field to left field to start the second game of the doubleheader, he continued to make teasing gestures toward them. After the girls left the game early to beat the traffic, Andrea's father said they should write Hall and ask him to autograph a baseball.

He said he had noticed the blond, wholesomely beautiful girl in the stands that day, and wanted to get to know her better.

Two weeks went by. They were studying at the Fairfield Public Library for their freshman year final exams when they became bored, and decided to write that letter to Hall. They addressed it to Yankee Stadium, stuck in the mail, went back to studying, and didn't think about it again.

Until a Friday afternoon soon after, when somebody called Jennifer at home claiming to be Mel Hall. He said he had noticed the blond, wholesomely beautiful girl in the stands that day, and wanted to get to know her better  perhaps she and her family would like to come to Yankee Stadium for the game tomorrow? He said he got lots and lots of fan mail but never opened it. The fact that he happened to open her note must mean it was destiny.

It was too ridiculous. She was sure somebody was messing with her, so she hung up. Maybe it was the boy she had a crush on, a huge Yankee fan who really liked Mel Hall. The two had just gone to the movies and ... the phone rang again. She hung up. This happened several more times, stretching over a couple of hours. It was a preposterous notion: Mel Hall, the major leaguer on the field that day, from the Yankees, calling her?

Yes, impossible, said her father, who was also a big Yankees fan: It couldn't be Hall because the game had already started, and Hall was in the lineup that night. But the phone rang again, and the person claiming to be Hall said he was the designated hitter that night, so he could sneak into the clubhouse and use the phone. He said he would prove to Jennifer that he was who he said he was: When he came up to bat, he would tap home plate with his bat three times.

The Diaz family gathered around the television. Jennifer's grandfather, a huge fan too, was there, and a family friend from down the street also came by. Hall strode up to the plate, charismatic as always, stylish in his ‘80s Jheri curl, a natural hitter in his element. But the first pitch came in, and ... Hall did nothing. Jennifer was embarrassed. She had always been so gullible.

Still, everyone kept watching. And before the next pitch, Hall tapped home plate with his bat three times. Then he took his bat and pointed at the television camera.

Twenty years later, Jennifer would testify in court: "We were all ecstatic."

* * *

Hall1_mediumIn five seasons with the Indians, Mel Hall hit .282. He finished his career with 134 homeruns and a .276 average. (Getty Images)

Mel Hall's career began full of promise. He was selected by the Chicago Cubs in the second round of the 1978 draft out of Port Byron High School in upstate New York, where he played baseball, football and basketball, and was tabbed as a future star.

He raced through the minor leagues, debuted in the major leagues in 1981 and made the majors for good in 1983, when he finished third in the Rookie of the Year balloting. The following year, he and another talented young outfielder, Joe Carter, were shipped to the Indians as part of a trade for ace pitcher Rick Sutcliffe. Although the deal helped secure the division title for the Cubs, skeptics wondered if the team had just mortgaged its future.

Hall's production would never match his potential, however. During his 13-year major league career, spent with the Cubs, Indians, Yankees, and, after a three-year stint in Japan, the Giants, he was mostly a tease, a talented but ultimately mediocre player for teams that weren't very good. He never played in the postseason, never made an All-Star team, never led the league in anything important, never hit 20 home runs or drove in close to 100 runs in the major leagues, and was generally considered a poor defensive outfielder.

Hall became known for his flamboyant grandiosity and his belief in his own greatness despite statistical evidence to the contrary.

But just because he wasn't a star didn't mean he couldn't carry himself like one. Hall became known for his flamboyant grandiosity and his belief in his own greatness despite statistical evidence to the contrary. The highest-profile chapter of his career came with the Yankees, from 1989 to 1992, where he was a limited but popular player. On a string of insipid Yankees teams slouching their way toward four consecutive losing seasons, at least Hall had personality.

At bat, he swung hard and he swung often, producing a poor on-base percentage but pretty good home run pop. When "Sluggo," as his Yankee teammates half-mockingly called him, connected, he punctuated the moment with one of history's slowest home run trots, once clocked at 33 seconds. Early in his career, he carried three sets of batting gloves in each back pocket, so, as he explained to reporters, they would "wave goodbye as I'm trotting around the bases." He even named his glove "Lucille," the same name B.B. King gave his guitar. Hall never said why he did this, but it fed the image of him as an eccentric superstar  hold the superstar.

This image was augmented by the colorful quotes he often provided reporters. He once said he wanted to fight Mike Tyson, and played up his cartoonish narcissism by telling reporters, "When God made my body, he made something good."

He grew up poor in Montezuma, N.Y., a tiny farm community 30 miles east of Syracuse where the Halls were one of a handful of black families. His father was a muck farmer who had played briefly in the Cincinnati Reds chain, and his mother worked in a factory. Perhaps he was overstating his poverty when he told reporters, "We were so poor, we ate ice for supper. We spelled poor with one ‘O' because we ate the other one." His beginnings were so humble, he said, that after being drafted, "I signed my first contract in dirt."

By the time Hall made it to the Yankees, those days of deprivation were long behind him. He played at a time where even ordinary players were starting to get big-money contracts  Hall made at least $6.3 million in his big-league career, and at least another $2 million playing three years in Japan  and he reveled in his money and status. By some accounts, he owned 15 cars, but still had a limo pick him up from Yankee Stadium. One person close to him at the time said he would spend his large paychecks practically as soon as he got them, and that he would literally take linen bags of cash out of the bank "like in the movies." In 1992, he rented an apartment in Trump Tower, then New York's most ostentatious address, where he lived down the hall from The Donald himself, the iconic emblem of that era's brand of crass New York excess.

He owned two German shepherds, and hired a German trainer who taught them to attack at the command of "Fass!" As if that were too ordinary a pet, he acquired two pet mountain lion cubs that he claimed to sleep beside, and that he once brought into the Yankee Stadium clubhouse. Authorities confiscated the animals and fined Hall several hundred dollars, but Hall was hardly chastened: "I'm thinking about getting myself a grizzly bear," he told reporters.

"Mel flirted with danger. He was always on the edge. He liked the action, he liked to instigate," said former Yankee teammate Steve Sax, one of only a few teammates and Yankee employees contacted willing to say much about Hall today. Sax said Hall would sometimes call him "cracker" just to get a rise out of him. "There were times when he was really fun to be around  he had this great big laugh  but you just didn't know what was on the other side of the curtain."

Hall did outlandish things and found himself in outlandish predicaments. In spring training of 1989, he put up both his wife and his girlfriend in the Indians team hotel and watched the two of them get into a fight near the pool, in full view of everyone. Later that year, after being traded to the Yankees and while on the disabled list with a pulled hamstring, he got into a violent clubhouse wrestling match with Rickey Henderson. He once reportedly brought a gun into the Yankees clubhouse. All of it was taken as part of Hall's eccentricity, what Hall himself described as "me being Mel Hall."

Hall's thirst for action, impulsiveness, and crass egotism were on full display in his nightlife, where he indulged his two greatest passions: Spending money and chasing women. When he went to New York's China Club and the Roseland Ballroom, he employed a $1,400-a-night bodyguard named Jimmy McMillan. Two decades later McMillan would become semi-famous in New York when he ran for governor and mayor on the "Rent is Too Damn High" party line. McMillan said Hall would "get women out of the club and want to fuck ‘em in the car." He said Hall would give him up to $300 to give to the DJ to play "songs he could get up close to the women and grind on them." McMillan would give the DJ $10, and pocket the rest.

Hall2__1__mediumThe photo of Mel Hall and Jennifer at her high school prom, which appeared in the 1991 Yankees team yearbook.

"Mel Hall loved sex. Sex is what drove him," said McMillan. According to a high school teammate, Hall impregnated two girls by the time he was a high school senior. The best guess of Texas authorities for the number of children he eventually sired is eight.

McMillan added, "He was a young guy who made a lot of money real fast, and he wanted to buy his way through life."

So that was Mel Hall: a disappointment as a player, a tall tale, a caricature of a narcissistic athlete untethered from reality by sudden fame and fortune, a guy who did everything in excess. No, he probably wasn't someone you wanted to be close with, but he filled up column space and kept things interesting over 162 games.

So when Hall started showing up to the ballpark with 15-year-old Jennifer Diaz, the most common reaction was one of amused curiosity.

The tabloid news show "A Current Affair" did a story on the odd couple. When Jennifer sat in the family section with players' wives 10 and 20 years older than her, his teammates teased him for picking up his fiancée at Toys "R" Us. The organization, in a portion of their 1991 team yearbook devoted to players and their significant others, even included a picture of Mel and Jennifer at a school prom. No one blinked, at least publicly. It was all part of Mel Hall being Mel Hall.

"Mel's weird," a teammate who did not want to be identified once told a reporter for The Philadelphia Inquirer. "I mean a lot of guys in baseball are weird. But Mel's weird weird."

* * *

The first time Hall had sex with Jennifer, her father was asleep on the sofa several feet away. After it was over, the 15-year-old cried. Decades later, she testified that Hall told her it was OK because he would marry her once she turned 18.

She is now 40. Through all the years, as she steered her life from a subject of gawking into a remarkably conventional version of suburban motherhood, she kept it all: The photos, the love letters, the apology letters, the jewelry receipts. She needed proof. It was such a bizarre story that nobody would believe her otherwise. Sometimes it's still hard for her to believe herself. Everything happened so fast, and she had so little control over how it unfolded.

After the Friday night game in which Hall had amazed the Diaz family by tapping his bat three times on the plate, he called the house and spoke to Jennifer's mother. He told her that despite his fame and wealth, he felt overwhelmed and alone in New York, in need of a family. Jennifer's mother always had a soft spot for strays — she "loved the unlovables," as Jennifer put it in a recent interview — and Hall had a manipulator's ability to tell people what they wanted to hear. The two hit it off and talked for hours. By the end of the conversation, Hall was calling her "Mother."

He invited the family to Yankee Stadium the next day for the Saturday night game. He gave them box seats, Yankees jackets, and the signed baseball that Jennifer had asked for in her fateful letter weeks ago. Nobody thought too much about what Hall's angle was, because thinking too much would have ruined the rapidly evolving fantasy. But Jennifer's father, likely sensing that Hall might be interested in his daughter, cautioned Hall upon meeting him at the stadium that his daughter was only 15.

"Keep drinking your milk, kid," Hall quipped. Everyone laughed, the potential uneasiness of the situation diffused by humor.

The following day, a Sunday, Hall found time to speak at length again to Jennifer's mother, and the two arranged that he would come over to the house in Fairfield, Conn., later that evening. Fairfield is a well-to-do New York City suburb, but Jennifer says her family was at the bottom rung of the town's economic hierarchy: Her mother ran a daycare business out of the house, and her father was a contractor. When Hall pulled up to the Diaz home in a limo, the family was so impressed that they took pictures of his arrival.

That particular day had been rough for Jennifer: She had gone to the beach with her friends and told them about what had transpired with Hall, but, not without a little envy, her friends had made fun of her. When Hall arrived, he said he had come because he heard she was upset. He said he would protect her, and that destiny had brought them into each other's lives. And, only a day after meeting her in person, he told her that he loved her.

For the rest of the week he came over every night after the game, fantasizing to Jennifer way past midnight about their future together. Before she knew it, before anyone had asked her how she felt about it, he had moved into her family's home. Yes, Mel Hall, a major league baseball player, was coming home after every game and sleeping on the living room floor of a suburban family whose 15-year-old daughter he had just met and with whom he now claimed to be in love.

That same week, he bought Jennifer a red Chevy Cavalier convertible — despite the fact that she was too young to have a driver's license. Gifts came pouring in to her family as well. Tickets to every Yankees game for the whole clan — Jennifer's attendance was mandatory — and transportation via limo. A Corvette convertible for her father. One morning, bulldozers showed up at their home to start digging an in-ground pool. If Hall wanted to buy his way through life, as his bodyguard McMillan suggested, he was certainly buying his way into the Diaz's hearts.

Hall6_mediumJennifer poses with the Chevy Cavalier that Mel Hall gave her.

At some point within those dizzying first two weeks, Hall gave Jennifer a diamond ring. She said she wasn't sure, that she was a little scared, so Hall said they could call it a "promise ring" until she was ready to commit. But for all intents and purposes, in the minds of the people who had any say in this — that is, Hall and Jennifer's family — the two were engaged to be married from that moment onward.

"It was a whirlwind," she said. "Everything went really fast. But I think that was his intention, to keep everything moving. I think he seized that opportunity. He was always talking about that whole ‘destiny' thing, because I had so many questions and wasn't ‘all-in' at that point."

Prior to Hall's sudden, inexplicable arrival in their lives, Jennifer's mom had operated her daycare business in the living room. But because Hall was sleeping there, and because he had promised to take care of the family's financial needs to a degree the Diaz's couldn't have dreamt about before, she discontinued the business. Jennifer's father continued to work, but the upshot was that the family had become financially dependent on Hall.

"They sold out," Jennifer would testify later about her parents. "They turned their brain off for three years. They were star-struck. They trusted him. And he was calling my mom ‘Mother,' and she thought she was helping this New York Yankee who needed a family and needed a home and needed care and love, because he didn't get it from his family, and she felt responsibility to take care of this Yankee and trusted him."

Jennifer's family became just as visible at Yankee games as she was, which provided public cover for Hall: If her parents were OK with what was going on, who were his teammates to judge?

Hall eventually moved from the living room into the master bedroom, displacing the parents to her old room.

"Whenever I saw her with him, they were usually there," said Jim Leyritz, a teammate of Hall's during the era. "I never saw it as a child predator type thing. He was almost a father figure to her. He never talked nasty or dirty about her. There was a respect factor there." As the photo of Hall with his teenage girlfriend in the Yankee yearbook suggests, even the front office seemed to tacitly condone the relationship. (Jeff Idelson, the Yankees director of media relations and publicity at the time and now president of the National Baseball Hall of Fame, declined comment through a spokesman for this article. Tom Bannon, publisher of the 1991 yearbook, did not respond to an interview request.)

Hall eventually moved from the living room into the master bedroom, which he shared with Jennifer, displacing the parents to her old room. When he began to touch her sexually, which he did before he had intercourse with her, she pretended she was asleep. As things progressed to intercourse, she didn't tell anybody, but nobody asked too many questions.

They were "together," in a semi-consensual relationship, for three years. All the while, Hall had maintained to Jennifer's parents that he would keep her "pure" until she turned 18, at which point he would marry her. (The age of consent in Connecticut was and still is 16, a year older than Jennifer was before Hall started sleeping with her.) In deference to Hall's promise, Jennifer's mother let Hall meet his needs with other women on the road, happily signing onto that condition if it meant that Hall would marry her daughter and take care of the family for the rest of their lives.

Somehow, despite the fact that Hall shared a bedroom with their daughter, Jennifer's parents believed that Hall was refraining from sexual contact with her until she was 18. They continued to believe this in the subsequent decades — even after Hall was convicted for sexually assaulting an underage girl. When Hall's lawyer cross-examined Jennifer during the punishment phase of his trial, after he had already been found guilty, the lawyer tried to discredit Jennifer by noting that even her own parents didn't think they were having sex.

"That's why I have issues with my family, ma'am," Jennifer replied. "That's why I'm here alone."

Hall5_mediumMel Hall with Jennifer on the floor of her parents' living room.

* * *

The agreement Hall brokered with Jennifer's mother enabled him to sleep around, but Jennifer remained under the impression that he was faithful. She would have every reason to think that, given Hall's maniacal possessiveness. He would pick her up from high school and insist that she make a beeline to the car, without looking up. He allowed a small circle of friends he perceived as non-threatening, but made her end friendships with others. Particularly threatening to Hall was the boy Jennifer had had a crush on before Hall invaded her life, a 15-year-old high school sophomore who quickly became the subject of consuming jealousy for the 28-year-old major leaguer. Jennifer used to love going to the beach, but Hall stopped that. She thinks the pool on the family property was Hall's attempt to keep her out of the sight of other men.

"It was Mel Hall all the time," she testified. "Any time he left [for a road trip], he would reprimand me and tell me not to see anybody, not to talk to anybody, not to go anywhere, not to do anything but to basically wait for his calls."

She added in an interview, "He was so excited that I was pure, that I was a virgin [prior to meeting Hall]. And I think in this sick, demented way, he was protecting that."

To mark his possession, he made her wear a diamond-encrusted necklace of his jersey number, 27, and a gold bracelet that said, "Mel." He wanted to propose formally to her at a school dance, to underscore that Jennifer belonged to him and not any of those boys, but Jennifer was too embarrassed about the idea to go through with it.

His possessiveness escalated as the relationship went on. One time, on a rare trip out to dinner, he caused a scene by getting in the face of a man he thought was looking at Jennifer. More than once, he locked her in a closet for a few hours because he didn't approve of her clothing. His note of apology for one of these episodes was entered into the prosecution's evidence during the sentencing phase of the trial. It read:

"Baby, when I asked you to change, it's because I love you. I know sometimes [I] am a little tough but no one loves you better or more. Mel."

Hall never struck her, but he made life miserable enough that it was easier for Jennifer to tiptoe around Hall's tantrums than to defy him. Also, her family's finances depended on Hall, which meant that keeping the peace with him became her responsibility.

"You would be nothing without me. You can't leave me. What's your family going to do?"

"He would tell me, ‘You would be nothing without me. You can't leave me. What's your family going to do?'" she testified.

Despite this, or maybe because of this, Jennifer found herself evolving from semi-willing chattel to a full participant in the relationship. "I wasn't ‘all-in,' but I became ‘all-in,'" she said. "I think part of it was, ‘This guy is so crazy about me.' And he would say, basically, ‘I could be with any woman, and you should be honored, you should start loving me back.' And then I thought that I did."

When Hall decided he wanted to train for the upcoming season in Florida during the winter of 1991-92, the Diaz's followed and moved from Connecticut, and Jennifer switched schools. When the Yankees season started in April, Hall decided he wanted Jennifer to live with him in his new place in Trump Tower. She was two months shy of graduating from high school in Florida, but Hall told her she didn't need to graduate as long as he was providing for her. To this day, Jennifer doesn't have a high school diploma.

She spent most of 1992 cooped up in Trump Tower, where Hall's limo driver kept an eye on her to make sure she didn't leave for long stretches to hang out with friends. Her one indulgence was going to the Carnegie Deli every afternoon for an egg sandwich.

Hall and Jennifer once went out to dinner with their neighbors down the hall, Donald Trump and Marla Maples, Trump's girlfriend and later his second wife. But at a certain point, as Jennifer remembers, the relationship between Hall and Trump soured, which Jennifer believes resulted from Hall's being behind on rent.

She remembers Trump approaching her with a challenging smile one day and asking, "What are you doing with this guy?"

Hall7_medium

Ultimately, Jennifer began asking herself the same question. It wasn't that it dawned on her that she was being sexually abused — that realization didn't fully click until decades later. Rather, what began to eat at her was the asymmetry between the restrictiveness Hall imposed on her and the freedoms he claimed for himself: Why did Hall and his close friend, Deion Sanders, get to go to strip clubs when the couple visited Sanders in Atlanta, yet she couldn't leave the house? How fair was it that she had to be close to the phone when he was on the road, but when she called his hotel room one time, a woman answered? What were those four-hour trips "to the gym" about, anyway? What did it mean when the owner of the limo company Hall used once pulled her aside and said, "You need to open your eyes?"

She had long suspected he was cheating, but never had any proof. Then one night, in the fall of 1992, she drove to a Florida hotel where she suspected he was having a dalliance. She saw him in the parking lot in the midst of an angry encounter with another woman. It was obvious that the two were romantically linked.

She raged at him like she'd never raged before, and raged at herself for whatever part she had played in allowing this all to happen by buying in for all those years. It was the anger of someone unleashing the emotions she had bottled up for the previous three years. She realized then that none of the things she had been led to believe and to accept, by Hall as well as her parents, were to be believed or accepted.

"I just kept saying, ‘Why?' I wasn't even mad at the situation. I was mad because I had felt so caged. But yet he's living this life, and he's always putting this guilt on me. So it was just, ‘Why?'"

After catching him in the act, Jennifer resolved that she was done with Hall. Her parents, having seen how devastated she was that night, didn't pressure her otherwise. She talked with Hall on the phone once, but didn't see him again until she faced him down on the witness stand 17 years later.

* * *

She soon began her long climb back from being Hall's child fiancée and her parents' meal ticket into an adult capable of standing on her own two feet. Her first job was at Hooters, a halfway house of sorts for someone who suddenly needed to fend for herself, but who had been inculcated with the idea that all she was good for was smiling and looking pretty.

She began going to church. The pastor, as it happened, had been the Yankees team chaplain several years before. He told Jennifer he had prayed that she would get out of her relationship with Hall. It all couldn't have been a coincidence, she believes.

She kept going to church, attended a bible college, and through church met her eventual husband, to whom she is still married with three children. She now runs her own interior design business and lives in the suburbs of a major American city.

Yet for most of this time, she has lived with the notion that her relationship with Hall had been a dysfunctional one, as distinguished from a sexually abusive one. Although she had the feeling deep down that something was completely wrong, it was never validated by the people closest to her.

"It was brushed off. ‘You're dramatic, you're overreacting,'" she said. "To so many people around me it was normal. I never thought of what it really was until I talked to people outside the situation, and their mouths would pop open."

No, she didn't begin to have a full understanding of what she had experienced until 2007, when she learned that Hall had been charged with sexual abuse of a 12-year-old girl. Two years later, over the objections of her parents, she met with prosecutors before Hall's trial and told them everything that happened to her. She mailed them her stash of mementos, her proof.

"That's when I realized: This was abuse. And that was just the most sobering time. They [the prosecutors] looked me in the eye and said, ‘This is what this is.'"

* * *

To the Yankees organization, Hall had always walked a fine line between being a semi-tolerable eccentric and a pain in the ass.

In 1990, after Yankees manager Stump Merrill benched him against left-handed pitchers — a reasonable move considering Hall's .222 lifetime batting average against them — Hall threw a tantrum in the clubhouse, slamming Merrill's door so hard the hinges and doorknob jarred loose. He publicly demanded a trade, but nobody wanted him: "I looked around and couldn't find any takers," General Manager Gene Michael told reporters.

Hallgiants_mediumMel Hall bats for the Giants in 1996, his final season. (Getty Images)

As the team began turning over its roster and slowly assembling the pieces of a championship contender, Hall's act grew ever more tired. He seemed to sense that his status was threatened by the next generation of up and comers, and he took his frustrations out on one of those talented young players, Bernie Williams, whose reticent demeanor was 180 degrees the opposite from Hall's.

With Williams, Hall took rookie hazing to abusive extremes. (Some say Hall's ire was initially triggered by a Williams' base running mistake that cost Hall a cycle.) He called Williams "Bambi," mocking his large doe eyes, which were magnified by his bulky glasses. Alternately, he called him "Mr. Zero," Hall's assessment of Williams' value. He once taped a sign on Williams' locker saying "Mr. Zero," and would say, "Shut up, Zero," whenever Williams tried to speak, something that reportedly once nearly brought Williams to tears. Things got so vicious that management interceded on Williams' behalf.

"Mel was basically bullying Bernie and we put an end to it," responded Buck Showalter, the current Baltimore Orioles manager who was then a Yankee coach, via an email from an Orioles spokesperson.

And while Hall reveled in the status that being a Yankee conferred, he was hardly deferential toward the organization's tradition. During Old Timer's Day in 1992, he walked out onto the field and asked Showalter, by then the Yankee manager, "Who are these old fucking guys?"

"That's when I knew he had to go," said Showalter.

Hall's contract expired at the end of the 1992 season. The Yankees showed no interest in him and neither did any other major league team, so Hall spent the next three years playing reasonably well in Japan, hitting 64 home runs. He returned at the age of 35 with the San Francisco Giants, his best days behind him, as a pinch hitter.

"Pinch hitting is a vital role, but I will never accept it," Hall told the San Francisco Chronicle in late April. Less than a month later, he was released. Signed by the White Sox a few weeks later, he played four games in the minors and was released again. He never returned to the major leagues.

Chapter Two →

Chapter Two: The Coach

When Courtney Miller* was little, her mother enrolled her in dance classes, hoping to raise a proper, delicate Texas girl. But Courtney was tall, gawky, and painfully shy. She was a horrible dancer, and every class ended in tears.

After that, Courtney's father, Gary Miller*, tried to interest her in sports. He had grown up a huge sports fan himself, so he was thrilled to find that Courtney was as natural an athlete as she was unnatural a dancer. Basketball was her favorite, and on the court, banging on the boards with the boys, her tomboy qualities served her well. By 1998, at the age of 12, she had become one of the very best players her age in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex, a hotbed of competitive youth sports.

He had the larger-than-life aura of a pro athlete, but he flattered people by letting them in.

Gary Miller recognized Hall at one of Courtney's AAU games that year and asked him for some baseball tips for his son. Hall, two years into retirement, was fast becoming a popular figure in the youth sports scene of the area, where he had moved with his wife before they split up, making the transition from athlete to coach. It was easy: For one, he was an athlete who had made it, which provided the ultimate caché among parents who wanted their kids to go as far in sports as their talent could take them. But people also responded to his personality: The defiant brashness of his playing days had mellowed into a winning jauntiness. He had the larger-than-life aura of a pro athlete, but he flattered people by letting them in.

True, nobody knew exactly how he lived and supported himself: Despite his apparent wealth, he always seemed to be crashing on people's couches or asking to borrow money, and he had the elusive shadiness of someone who had bought his way through life until he had nothing left. But he was charming, and he had a huge, infectious laugh, and he had played in the big leagues.

"I grew up an old Milwaukee Brave fan, and I just really looked up to those baseball players. And here I met a Major League Baseball player," Gary Miller would later testify.

The Millers quickly formed a close friendship with Hall. He began giving private baseball instruction to Courtney's 10-year-old brother and providing Courtney with basketball lessons. Hall had some experience: He had been a basketball star in high school and during his career had served as a volunteer high school basketball coach while living in Montreal with his first wife. Both of Courtney's parents worked full-time, often at odd hours, so Hall began helping out with chores like mowing the lawn and picking up Courtney and her brother from school.

It all seemed like a great opportunity for the 12-year-old Courtney, who had become determined to earn a college basketball scholarship that would provide the middle-class girl with a free education. Perhaps more importantly, the pursuit of that scholarship had become the linchpin of her identity: Even as she blossomed on the court, she was still awkward and introverted off it — "like a turtle in a shell," as she described herself in a recent interview. (She is now 28.) The pressures of puberty were making it unacceptable to be a tomboy. Other girls were beginning to display the traditional feminine behaviors Courtney had always found awkward. That's what had brought her to tears in dance class all those years ago.

Halljersey_mediumMel Hall's Chiba Lotte Marines jersey, which he gave to 12-year-old Courtney.

So when Hall told her she was good enough for a scholarship if she kept working with him, it validated her. When he acted like a kid with her and laughed with her, it validated her. When he bought her and her brother the newest athletic gear, and even gave Courtney his pink and white Chiba Lotte Marines jersey from Japan, it validated her.

"He'd pick me up from [middle] school in a Jag — it was something I bragged to my friends about," Courtney said. "I'm transitioning from being a major tomboy, where I looked like a boy, into a more girly aspect. And he was just right there. Your buddy. He'll do anything for you."

Her parents were also vulnerable. Their marriage was in trouble, and within a few years, they would divorce. Hall capitalized on the family's tumult, and positioned himself as an indispensable component for achieving something they all wanted: A scholarship for Courtney.

When Hall asked for something in return, Gary Miller was inclined to accommodate. Hall told the family he was having a house built in Southlake, a wealthy suburb, and in the meantime, for just a couple weeks, he needed a place to stay.

If this was 2014 and not 1998, it is likely that many parents would do a quick Google search, become alarmed at the discovery of Hall's relationship with Jennifer, and sever their ties. But Google wasn't yet ubiquitous, and private indiscretions tended to stay private. Besides, the Millers were trusting people by nature.

They allowed Hall to stay in their house, and didn't object when a couple weeks turned into more than three months, which Hall attributed to construction delays on his new house. They didn't object either when Gary saw Hall and his daughter lying together on her bed — after all, they were fully clothed, and were in a seemingly platonic position of sitting up against the headrest. And they didn't object when Hall moved into Courtney's bedroom, displacing Courtney to the family room, which Courtney rationalized by reasoning that it was a privilege to watch television on the couch late at night.

It is generally accepted that child molesters make their victims feel older than they actually are while they themselves act younger. Soon after moving in, Hall introduced to the Miller children what they would later describe as "a game": Hall would take his pants and underwear off, lie flat on his back, and kick his legs in the air, causing his private parts to flop around. He would laugh, and because he was laughing, Courtney's brother would laugh, and because her brother was laughing, Courtney would laugh too. Hall even had Courtney's brother do it. He tried, but it wasn't as funny as when Hall did it.

Pretty soon, Hall's inappropriate behavior escalated and he began masturbating in front of Courtney: "I remember one time he just said, ‘It's like a fountain,' or something," Courtney remembered.

The next step was making Courtney touch him, which Courtney also remembered as being "like a game," her perceptions of normality and boundaries having been systematically broken down. Then they began watching porn together, with Hall telling her, "You've got to learn somehow."

Soon enough, Courtney was firmly under his thumb, his to do almost whatever he wanted. When he drove her to practice, he would crudely reach across to the passenger seat to grope her, reveling in the fact that he was able to do so. He would make her perform oral sex, signaling her by saying her name in a playful, singsong voice, while looking at her with lascivious eyes that underscored that he meant business. In his playing days, he had used his status to make girls into his personal playthings, which validated his grandiose self-image. In retirement, he was using whatever status he had left to do the same thing.

He apparently got a kick out of molesting Courtney just under the radar of detection: "That was his fetish."

He apparently got a kick out of molesting Courtney just under the radar of detection: "That was his fetish. I think he got off on that adrenaline rush," Courtney said. On one occasion, after traveling with the Miller family to an AAU tournament in Nashville, he made Courtney stop in his hotel room and perform oral sex on him just before she went downstairs to a formal opening reception. When he eventually moved out of the Miller house and into an apartment with his girlfriend and their infant son, he would invite Courtney over to babysit, and make her perform oral sex while his girlfriend slept several feet away. (The house he was supposedly building in Southlake, like so many things he told so many other people, was a complete lie. In reality, he lived off other people for years.)

During this time, Courtney was barely aware that she was being victimized. Her father trusted and revered Hall, so the notion that he was a predator caused cognitive dissonance. There was also the fact that she was sheltered and knew even less about sex than most girls her age. "With me being 12 at the time, I really had no idea what was going on," she said. "I just thought this is how normal people act at this age, I guess."

Perhaps most confusing was Hall's constant flattery of her: Hall was the first male, excluding her father, who ever told her she was pretty. That he was also the first male to kiss her somehow felt right.

"It meant something, it was a little special," she testified. "I didn't have a whole lot of friends, and so, you know, it just felt like I had a — we never said boyfriend/girlfriend, but that's what it felt like."

* * *

Hall's molestation of Courtney went on for months, and he managed to break every boundary except for one: Courtney refused to have intercourse. Hall responded to this by becoming more insistent. Courtney reacted by finally starting to pull away, and by slowly coming to the realization that what was happening wasn't right.

At this, Hall became angry and possessive. He would pull her face against his and make her tell him that she loved him. When she refused, he would squeeze her face forcefully until she complied. At trial, she testified that she never says those words to her parents because "it doesn't mean anything to me anymore."

But Hall had gained some leverage over Courtney by this point: With the blessing of her parents, he had recruited her from her previous AAU team onto a team he would personally coach. This meant that he now controlled her playing time.

The team, the Texas Fire, one of hundreds of teams affiliated with the Texas Shooting Stars, the largest basketball club in the country, would soon be considered the best AAU team in the state. Nine players, including Courtney, would later earn Division I college scholarships, and one went onto play in the WNBA. Unlike most other AAU teams, which often broke down on racial lines, the Fire's all-star, multi-racial roster reflected Hall's ability to court kids and their families. Their run-and-gun style of play, which eschewed set plays, echoed Hall's disdain for the idea that talent should be bound by structure or rules. Today, players on the team realize that Hall was disinterested in teaching the finer points of the game, and that coaching for him was more about recruiting girls than actually helping them grow as players.

Courtney was the leading scorer and arguably best player on a first-year Fire team that went 74-12, but the team was so loaded it could win without her. So when Courtney started resisting Hall's requests to have sex and started keeping her distance from him off the court, he punished her by benching her. At the AAU national tournament in Orlando, where college scouts came in droves to spot the next generation of recruits, Hall sat her for long stretches. (Still, the team placed ninth nationally in the 13-and-under division.) This was especially distressing to Courtney because Hall had convinced her that he was the key to her scholarship hopes. He told her that other players on the team were sleeping with him, so what was her problem?

"I was stuck in a situation where I was on his team, and I felt a little trapped. Like what am I supposed to do?" she said.

Eventually, Courtney out-waited Hall. He stopped demanding favors from her. The team broke up shortly thereafter as the players left for other teams. Hall and Courtney went their separate ways.

"I think he just thought, ‘I've gotta move on here. I've gone as long as I can with this one and should move on before she catches on,'" she said.

In subsequent years, away from Hall, Courtney's game kept improving. The confusion and trauma of being abused actually sharpened her focus on basketball. The court was her safe space, where she could be assertive and not a "turtle in a shell." During her senior year, she was recognized by a major media outlet as the area's player of the year, and she went on to earn the Division I scholarship she always wanted.

Off the court was another story. She told three people what had happened to her, but made them swear not to tell anyone else, and spent the next decade of her life carrying around a secret. During high school and college, she didn't have a single boyfriend.

"After that happened, I really, really clammed up," she said. "I was always super shy and scared of people. Then all of a sudden it hit me like a ton of bricks."

Hallwide1_mediumMel Hall in 2009. (Getty Images)

* * *

Courtney might have been the team's best scorer, but the captain of the Texas Fire was Katie Bentley*, a blond 13-year-old. Katie was spunky and charismatic, with an extroverted maturity that allowed her to be as close with Coach Hall as she was with her teammates.

She went on to be the captain of both her high school and Division I college teams. Now 29, she works as a high school basketball coach. Then as now, she had reverence for the profession, believing that the coach is someone whose approval should be sought and earned.

"I liked getting better. I liked that I was impressing [Hall]," she later testified. "I really felt the need to show off for him, just to show what I was capable of doing. Really, like when he would give me lessons and if I would do it well, like you could see that reaction. You could see that smile: ‘Good job. Well done.' That was comforting."

The close bond Katie and Hall shared on the court soon progressed off of it. They began talking on the phone for hours, deep into the night. Hall was easy to talk to: He was an empathic listener with a good sense of humor and the kind of perfectly assured demeanor that appeals to adolescents. She didn't feel smothered by Hall's attention. She liked it.

"It didn't seem unusual," she testified. "I wanted to talk. We talked a lot."

It never once crossed her mind to be afraid of Hall until it was too late.

The conversations covered everything, even personal things, so it didn't seem all that jarring to her when Hall told her one night that she was really pretty, and that she might be embarrassed about what he was going to say next, but he wanted her to be his girlfriend. Likewise, at a team fundraiser car wash, when the team got into a water fight and Hall reached underneath her shirt, she chalked it up to the fact that Hall sometimes just acted like a kid.

In short, it never once crossed her mind to be afraid of Hall until it was too late. In July of 1999, Katie, by then 14, went to Hall's apartment to babysit. Courtney was also there, as was Hall's girlfriend and the couple's infant child. Katie was unconcerned — surely there was nothing to be afraid of with someone who was the father of such a cute kid. But when Courtney, the girlfriend, and the baby left for reasons Katie doesn't now recall, Katie found herself alone with Hall.

Hall took Katie's overalls off, and started kissing her body, telling her how pretty she was. Katie, assertive even in the most terrifying and confusing moment of her life, managed to tell Hall, "Please don't put it inside me."

But Hall had never encountered a limit he didn't want to test. While it was happening, it didn't completely occur to Katie that she was being raped because she was in shock, with a disconnect between her body and brain. All she knew is that she felt a pressure in that area she had never felt before, and that it hurt. When she got home that night, her underwear was bloodstained. She threw them away, "because I didn't want anybody to ask about them."

The next day in school, she blurted out to her best friend, "Mel Hall raped me," but she made the friend promise not to say anything. She didn't tell her parents or anyone else.

"I think part of me was scared, or part of me didn't think they would believe me," she said in a recent interview. "Either that, or I thought my dad would've killed him."

For child sex abuse victims, the choice of whether to speak up or stay silent is a cost-benefit calculation with horrible outcomes on both sides. Speak up and risk being called a liar, or be stigmatized as damaged goods, or alienate a person you might still care about, or watch someone retaliate on your behalf. Stay silent and allow the rapist to rape again.

Within a few weeks of the first incident, Katie, her father, and Hall were talking about softball. Katie's father, like Courtney's father, trusted Hall entirely. He handed Hall his credit card and told him to take Katie to buy a glove.

Katie faced a stark choice: "It was either tell my dad [in Hall's presence] that I didn't want to go, and he'd figure out everything, or go."

She couldn't bring herself to tell her father.

"And it was like, I know what's coming. And I know I'm about to be in a lot of pain. And he's this huge man, and he's so heavy."

The terror she felt when she got into Hall's Jeep is "a feeling that I can't escape, and put away. Like, you think, ‘He's in prison now, he's never gonna do this again, yada yada.' But it still doesn't change."

They pulled off the main road and onto a gravel path that led to a boat ramp by a lake. Katie described feeling "paralyzed" during the encounter in the back of the vehicle, a phenomenon known as "tonic immobility," when rape victims shut down in a state of shock so as to minimize the trauma.

She doesn't remember anything after that, or how she got home. After this second incident, which occurred after the Texas Fire had broken up, she made sure never to be alone with Hall again.

* * *

In 2007, eight years after Hall raped her, Katie watched a movie called "Georgia Rule." The film concerns a troubled character played by Lindsay Lohan whose behavior traces from having been raped by her stepfather. It was critically panned — Ebert and Roeper gave it two thumbs down — but it struck a chord with Katie, who longed to face up to the traumas of her past like Lohan's character eventually did.

She was in her early 20s by this point, an adult and not a child. Aside from her friend, who she told after the first incident, she had also told her mother and her brother about Hall, but she made them promise not to tell anyone. Her brother was a Catholic priest, so she prefaced the conversation by telling him that she needed to confide in him as a priest as opposed to a brother.

"It was an ‘Ah-ha' moment, that if I want to be OK, I have to tell someone."

But after seeing that movie, she said, "I had the worst feeling" — that something likely happened to other girls. She had been inching toward coming forward all those years, but the movie pushed her over the edge.

"It was an ‘Ah-ha' moment, that if I want to be OK, I have to tell someone," she said.

That night, she began calling, texting and Facebook messaging her old Texas Fire teammates. She had been the team leader all those years ago and, in a way, she still was. Many of them had remained friendly acquaintances through high school and college as they progressed up the ranks of big-time basketball, playing with and against each other. She didn't know about some of the girls, but she was pretty certain something had happened to Courtney.

"She obsessed and defended Mel the way I would," she said. "There was the same loyalty that we shared. And just the way she would look at him, you could just tell there was something going on. And I knew if I was able to be persuaded and manipulated like that, and my confidence was a lot higher than hers, you just knew something happened."

Katie wrote a Facebook message to Courtney telling her to call her right away, that it was important.

Says Courtney, "I immediately knew exactly what she was talking about."

Chapter Three →

Chapter Three: The Criminal

In May of 2007, Courtney Miller and Katie Bentley reported to Texas law enforcement officials that Mel Hall, their former AAU basketball coach, had sexually assaulted them nearly a decade before. Because the assaults took place in both Tarrant and Denton Counties, the women — who were 12 and 14 when the assaults occurred — had to file separate reports for each jurisdiction.

They soon concluded that Courtney and Katie likely represented a fraction of the girls Hall had abused.

The authorities started an investigation, talking to other young women in the area who had contact with Hall in high-level youth sports over the previous decade. They soon concluded that Courtney and Katie likely represented a fraction of the girls Hall had abused.

They learned that in 1998, the same year Hall had lived for a time with the Millers, he had also moved into the family home of 10-year-old Dana Becker*. It was supposed to be for a weekend, but he stayed three to four months. During this time, he would kiss Dana's forehead and cheeks, while telling her what he had told Jennifer Diaz all those years ago: "Some day I'm going to marry you."

One day, Dana's 12-year-old brother walked in to see a shirtless Hall underneath a blanket with an underage girl on top of him, a girl who was not Dana. The father kicked Hall out of the house soon after.

The police spoke to Katie and Courtney's teammates on the Texas Fire, and many corroborated the notion that Hall was a serial predator. According to a police report, one young woman "felt uncomfortable with him in reference to some of his comments." Another said the same thing, adding that she "heard that he may have touched other girls inappropriately. [The player] advised Hall was a freeloader and a thief, because he lived at different homes with other people." Yet another said "she did hear that Hall had been touching some girls, but did not know who."

People close to the situation said that Hall often seduced the mothers of the girls he was targeting. And according to Katie, two members of the team who declined to come forward confided in her that Hall had molested them.

Another Texas Fire teammate, Kayla Bonnet*, who was 13 at the time, testified that Hall would play one-on-one with her and brush his hands against her breasts and rear end. Kayla eventually left the team amidst her mother's concerns that Hall was behaving inappropriately: She didn't like that he would let Kayla drive his Jaguar, or that he would buy her gifts, or talk to her on the phone and tell her he loved her, a statement that, he tried to assure Kayla's mother, he meant only in a fatherly way.

Kayla and Hall didn't see each other for around two years, but when Kayla was 15, they met again at basketball tournament and started talking.

"It kind of turned into, ‘You know, I saw you the other day. I thought you were really pretty. I just kind of want to know if I could get to know you better, maybe take you out on a date,'" Kayla testified.

Hall began calling her, constantly, saying he loved her and wanted to date her. It progressed to a point where Kayla realized she was in too deep, and that she couldn't stop the calls on her own.

She went to her mother, who had always suspected that Hall was up to no good. The mother, Vera Bonnet*, had once asked Hall why he coached girls instead of boys. His answer — "Boys are harder to coach because they don't listen," according to Vera — was telling for someone who himself had been a hard-headed male athlete, and who capitalized on the pliant, impressionable nature of young girls.

Despite her suspicions two years prior, when her daughter had played for Hall, Vera Bonnet had opted against blowing the whistle to other parents. "I had no concrete evidence. And when you start saying that stuff, you really need concrete evidence," she said.

After learning of Hall's persistent phone calls to her 15-year-old daughter, Vera now felt she had the definitive proof she needed. She contacted Kayla's high school and had Hall banned from coming to games (though Hall would flout the ban). She also wrote a letter to the AAU about Hall's behavior and demanded his ouster from the organization.

Vera's actions apparently had an impact. By all accounts, Hall never coached youth basketball again. Whether he was formally admonished or banned is an open question: Prosecutors tried to subpoena AAU records, but couldn't pull up anything from that time period, and AAU President Henry Forrest said he had no records on file for Hall. Forrest also said the AAU did not perform formal background checks on the organization's 80,000 volunteer coaches until three years ago. The action only came when former AAU president and CEO Robert Dodd was himself accused of molestation. The likely result of Vera's actions was that Hall simply felt the heat and moved on.

In 2002 and 2003, Hall tried to get back into baseball, and spent those next two seasons playing and coaching for independent league teams like the Fort Worth Cats, the Springfield (Mo.)/Ozark Mountain Ducks and the Coastal Bend/Texas Aviators. The ex-major leaguer hit one home run.

By 2004, he was back in the Metroplex, this time coaching select girl's softball for an organization called The Wicked Sports Association. He also rented a building in nearby Denton to offer private hitting lessons. This not only allowed him to earn some income off his status as an ex-major leaguer, but, significantly, it also kept him in the company of teenage girls.

The sport was different, but Hall's behavior was the same as when he coached basketball. One player, 14-year-old Karen Bass*, later told investigators that Hall was "very nice and very sweet. And then it started to escalate into more than just a player/coach relationship."

During a team pool party, he grabbed her around the waist from behind and "whisper[ed] lewd things in my ear, like making weird noises and stuff." Once, while pitching "soft toss" batting practice to her with her father standing just a few feet away, he told her under his breath that she had a nice body, that he wanted to have sex with her.

* * *

Hallyankees_mediumMel Hall bats for the Yankees in 1991. He often used his experience as a pro ballplayer to lure others in. (Getty Images)

Lori (last name withheld at her request), a divorced mother of two who has a successful career in consulting sales, first met Mel Hall in late 2006 at a Metroplex sports bar, when she was in her mid-40s. She was immediately charmed by his confident energy, forceful physical presence, and the biographical details he provided, both true (that he had played for the Yankees) and false (that he was having a big house built in suburban Frisco).

"We laughed the whole time. He was just fun."

They began dating. When they went to play golf, "We laughed the whole time. He was just fun," she said. When Lori asked him how he got such coveted tee-times at an exclusive country club, he replied, "Because I'm Mel Motherfucking Hall," and Lori laughed, not realizing at the time that Hall wasn't being ironic.

In bed, he was forceful, dominant, and intense. "Is this pussy mine?" he would ask her over and over. "How much do you love this dick?"

She sensed in some recess of her mind that something was amiss with Hall: Too many larger-than-life stories, too many balls in the air. Why was this guy, who was supposedly building a huge house, always trying to borrow $20? If he had so much money, why was he crashing on the floor of a friend's house for so long? And why was he driving a borrowed car?

But Hall had a way of floating above such prosaic concerns, of deflecting any skepticism with the ease and cool cunning of a pathological liar, so Lori didn't read too deeply into things. Besides, her expectations were to have fun, not to marry him. "A guy like that, you're not looking for anything long term," she said. "You're just looking to get on his merry-go-round and ride for a while."

As a Christmas present to her nephews that year, she ordered Hall's baseball cards online, and had Hall sign them. While online, she came across the prom picture of him and Jennifer from the 1991 Yankees yearbook. Hall told her it was a photo op set up by his agent, and that the young girl was Jennifer Capriati, a teen tennis sensation during that era who had made the cover of Sports Illustrated with the caption, "And She's Only 13!"

Lori believed him, she guessed. In addition, when Hall told her he was having problems with his phone, she didn't think too much about lending him a spare one she had, on her plan.

Hall was using that phone when Lori overheard him one night soon afterward. Purely by the way he was talking, she could tell a female was on the other end of the line, with whom Hall was romantically linked. Then she heard Hall say, "You know why I couldn't come bail you out." She also heard him say, "Your dad," which made her think it was one of Hall's young players.

She had no proof of anything. But this episode, combined with what she called Hall's general "elusiveness," was enough to compel her to end the relationship. "I was like, ‘This doesn't feel right at all,'" she said.

Her entanglement with Hall wasn't over, however. At the end of the month, she had $150 in overages on her phone bill, caused by 626 calls within a three-week-period between Hall and the person with whom he had been speaking that night. That person, Lori soon learned after she repossessed the phone and received multiple texts and one phone call, was rather obviously a teenage girl.

As grateful as she was that Hall was out of her life, she still wanted her $150 back, plus another $400 she had loaned him. When she managed to get Hall on the phone to recover her money, he told her he was out of town, in spring training with the Texas Rangers, embarking at the age of 46 on what he said would be "the biggest comeback in the history of baseball." He said he was in Surprise, Fla., but would be back in the Metroplex when the season started. Lori went online and learned that the Spring Training home of the Texas Rangers was in Surprise, Ariz.

During their brief fling, Lori found it very peculiar that Hall had begun receiving his retirement pension checks from Major League Baseball at her home. Soon, she received a legal notice, addressed to Hall, that the mother of one of Hall's children was suing him for child support. Soon after, she received a note saying that Hall's pension would be garnished.

"For months, [pension] checks were coming to my place, but after that, they were for zero dollars," she said.

The checks were a monthly reminder of a bizarre chapter in Lori's life, and perhaps also a near miss: Even though they were only casually dating, Hall had wanted to move into Lori's place "temporarily." But Lori resisted. She didn't think it was appropriate for a man she had been dating so briefly to live with her teenage son and daughter.

"I mean, thank God they were never alone," Lori said. "She [her daughter] always found him a little creepy."

* * *

The teenage girl with whom Hall had spoken 626 times in less than a month was Sara Walsh*. She was 17 at the time of the phone calls, and played on a competitive youth softball team Hall now coached in the Texas Glory organization, where the college scholarship ambitions of the girls were on par with the girls on his basketball teams. Walsh, in fact, went on to play at a Division I school.

At around that time, in December of 2006, Frisco, Texas police responded to a report of a hostile encounter in a car between an adult male and a much younger female in the parking lot of a Kohl's department store. The officer asked both parties to produce IDs, and Mel Hall complied with the request. Sara Walsh gave a fake name and a fake date of birth — she said she was 18, when in truth she was 17 — but police quickly discovered she was lying and arrested her for giving false information.

It should be noted that the age of consent in Texas was 17. But the incident explains why Lori overheard Hall saying into the phone, "You know why I couldn't come bail you out."

The following spring, while Sara played on Hall's softball team, Texas Glory administrator Dan Adkins, who coached one of the other teams, "loaned" his daughter to Hall's team so they could have enough players. Adkins' daughter happened to wear the same jersey number for her team as Sara did for hers, which meant that their league-issued equipment bags, which featured their uniform numbers, looked exactly the same.

Adkins went to fetch some equipment from what he thought was his daughter's bag. But it was really Sara's bag, and inside Adkins found a card from Hall to Sara with a pre-printed poem. It was part love letter, part apology. It read:

"That's why I'm hoping/ you'll help me peel away/ the parts that aren't right/ because underneath that/ is the greatest love I've ever known./ We're worth it./ I believe that/ with all my heart."

The card was signed, "Love you, Mel."

A portrait of Hall as a predator snapped into clarity in his mind.

Prior to this moment, Adkins and Hall had been good friends: Adkins had even loaned Hall money on many occasions. Sure, he found Hall's obsession with Hooters a bit off-putting — "Mel loved Hooters, and that level of fan would recognize him, and he'd pick up the occasional Hooters girl," Adkins said — but it was typical enough jock stuff. Hall had even once asked to move into his home temporarily, but Adkins turned him down. Now, Adkins saw everything differently, and a portrait of Hall as a predator snapped into clarity in his mind.

That night, Adkins fired Hall from the Texas Glory and told him he didn't want to hear about him coaching girls ever again. According to Adkins, Hall responded by saying, "I'm a famous guy. I have a lot of resources. Don't put your family at risk by saying things about me."

"And I just told Mel, ‘I'm a legal gun carrier. I'll take my chances.' I wasn't gonna let him intimidate me from doing the right thing," Adkins said.

Adkins made copies of Hall's card to Sara and presented one to Sara's father. The father's response, according to Adkins, was to tear up the paper and say, "Dan, I refuse to put my family through this."

Prior to Adkins' discovery of the letter, Sara had been living temporarily with family friends, the Schmidts. When Adkins told the family's father what had happened, Mr. Schmidt showed him a stash of written correspondence he had kept in the house between Sara and Hall. Adkins described these letters as "extremely graphic" and "sickening." He thinks Schmidt kept them in case Sara ever decided to take legal action in the future. Adkins also believes that Hall may have molested Schmidt's teenage daughter.

Both the Schmidt family and Sara, who is now 24, declined comment for this story.

Chapter Four →

Chapter Four: The Convict

In June of 2009, in downtown Fort Worth, Mel Hall went on trial in the Tarrant County Criminal Court for five counts of sexual abuse against Courtney Miller, including three counts for Aggravated Sexual Assault of a Child Under 14. The trial only covered the accusations within Tarrant County, the location of the apartment Hall rented with his girlfriend after moving out of the Miller's home. The accusations for the assaults in Courtney's home, in neighboring Denton County, were being charged separately.

Prosecutors believed they had enough evidence to get convictions for the assaults of both Courtney and Katie. (In both cases, no statute of limitations applied.) But because Courtney was under the age of 14 when Hall assaulted her and Katie was 14, a conviction for charges against Courtney carried a maximum prison sentence twice as long.

Prior to the trial, Hall had issued subpoenas for some of the big names of his athletic past: Deion Sanders, Don Mattingly and Buck Showalter. But he never had those subpoenas served, leading prosecutors to believe that issuing them was merely an attempt to marshal the last vestiges of his name recognition into a show of force.

At trial, Hall didn't take the stand on his own behalf, which was unsurprising to prosecutors: By law, everything Hall might have done to any other girls — Katie, Jennifer, Dana, Kayla, Karen, Sara — was inadmissible in the guilt/innocence phase of the trial, which is concerned solely with the crime at hand. The only way these accusations could have been admitted would have been if Hall's defense team opened the door with a character defense, as in, "Hall isn't the type of person to commit such a crime." Hall had always liked to talk, and in an interview prosecutors expressed their belief that the possibility he would inadvertently open the door on the stand was likely too large a risk for the defense. His high-powered lawyers, who included Brady Wyatt, president of the Dallas Criminal Defense Lawyers Association at the time and one of the most highly-regarded defense attorneys in the area, wisely kept him quiet.

They told her how important it was to put an end to what Mel Hall had done to her and countless others.

All of this meant that the prosecution's case would succeed or fail almost entirely on the testimony of Courtney. But seconds before she was supposed to approach the witness stand, she told prosecutors she was too scared to go through with it.

"I was scared to death," she said. "I was like, ‘I can't do it. I can't do it.'"

Prosecutors soothed her and pleaded with her to follow through. They told her how important it was to put an end to what Mel Hall had done to her and countless others. Courtney finally stepped up to the stand. She was petrified, and her shoulders slumped. Seeing Hall in the courtroom was especially tough.

"I didn't want to see him. He had this real serious look on his face. I remember it when he coached me," she said.

To warm her up, prosecutors spent 20 minutes talking to her about basketball, the only thing she ever felt comfortable talking about. Then the questions progressed to what had happened with Hall.

"I was like, 'I gotta step out of my shell and really do the right thing.' Otherwise it would've kept going," Courtney said.

The jury found her convincing. It helped that she, like Katie, had confided in three people in the intervening years. The testimony of each was consistent with Courtney's accounts of the assaults.

Courtney's father testified as well. When he said, "My daughter's a good girl," he broke down crying.

The jury reached a guilty verdict on all five counts after 90 minutes of deliberation. When the verdict was read, "Courtney had an instantaneous reaction to it," said Prosecutor Kim D'Avignon.

"All of a sudden she was looking me in the eye. Her shoulders went back. It was literally years of weight off her shoulders."

* * *

Any doubt the jurors may have felt about their verdict was likely eliminated by the gallery of witnesses and evidence presented during the trial's sentencing phase. Everything that would have been considered prejudicial during the guilt/innocence phase — testimony by Jennifer and Katie, evidence of Hall's relationship with Sara, love letters and jewelry receipts, among much else — came out during sentencing, So did the fact that Hall had been arrested for domestic violence in the 1990s against one of his prior wives, and that he had violated an order of protection the wife took out against him. Even though the girls were subjected to cross-examination, they were unwavering. All of it added up to an airtight case that identified Hall as a serial abuser.

Overall, there was compelling evidence that Hall had either abused or had improper relationships with seven underage girls, spanning nearly two decades. The sheer volume of his crimes likely contributed to Hall's getting the maximum allowable sentence: 45 years, with no possibility of parole until he serves half his sentence. He was sentenced on June 17, 2009, which means he will be released in November, 2031, at the earliest. He will be 71.

"What was his weapon? Trust," said D'Avignon in her closing argument. "Over and over again, he shook the hand of a parent and said, 'It's OK. I'll take care of them. I'll make her a better person.' Instead what he did was rob them of their innocence and change the scope of their lives."

Hallletter_mediumOne of the many letters from Mel Hall to Jennifer Diaz that was presented as evidence. It reads: "Jennifer, Everyday that I am away from you I want you to read this letter and you will always know that I am with you. No one will ever come between us or love you like I do 2 1/2 years of love, hate, pain, problems God has kept us together pray and ask him to take care of you and me. Love you more and more each day and will be home soon. Your husband, Mel"

So voluminous was the evidence that prosecutors didn't feel the need to bring up every potential witness against him. For instance, they never called a Montreal woman who said Hall sexually assaulted her in the 1980s when she was a teenager and Hall was living in Montreal during the offseason with his wife and daughter. The woman, Christina Fuoco, worked a seasonal holiday job in the same mall where Hall operated batting cages. One day, she said, Hall offered her a ride in his Porsche. He exposed himself to her several minutes in.

"He grabbed my head and pushed me on him. I pushed off, he pushed me back on. I pushed off, he pushed on. And it was over almost as soon as it begun," Fuoco said in a recent interview.

Fuoco was shaken up after the encounter, but wouldn't have considered herself "traumatized." Still, every few months she found herself Googling "Mel Hall." After learning he had been arrested, she contacted Texas authorities, though she didn't testify at trial because she had recently given birth. The sheer happenstance of her discovery hints at the probability that Hall victimized other women. Since Hall was sentenced, she hasn't Googled his name.

For his part, Hall's defense witnesses consisted mostly of other youth coaches, a nanny who had worked for him, one of his ex-wives and two of his children.

One ex-wife and their daughter both used the word "protector" to describe Hall, as if reading from the same script.

"I've never felt more safe than being with him," the daughter testified. "Even though we don't live together, we are still one big happy family. Him and my mom are best friends. He's one of my best friends."

However, this image of familial closeness was undermined by the fact that both the mother and daughter weren't aware of the existence of his youngest child, the one Courtney and Katie would babysit.

The day after the trial, Prosecutor Christy Jack was summoned back up to court when she saw Hall's daughter standing outside the courthouse. The young woman told Jack she wanted to speak with her. Jack was immediately terrified.

"I've been doing this work for a long time, with a lot of dangerous people, and nobody has ever physically assaulted me. But the way she was approaching me, it was like, ‘This is when this is gonna happen,'" Jack said.

Jack gingerly walked toward Hall's daughter, prepared for the worst. The daughter hugged her, tightly, and said into her ear, "Thank you."

"And I just thought, ‘Maybe she's another victim,'" said Jack.

* * *

The day after he was sentenced, Hall pled guilty in Tarrant County to the Criminal Sexual Assault of Katie Bentley. The following year, he pled guilty in neighboring Denton County for the Criminal Sexual Assault of Courtney. The pleas carried some benefits for Hall: Rather than having his sentences stacked on top of each other, they would run concurrently. However, they likely didn't help his appeal for the conviction of abusing Courtney, which he lost in 2010. (He claimed in his appeal that he had received ineffective counsel, and that extraneous offenses were admitted at trial.)

He's now an inmate in the Allred Unit, in Iowa Park, Texas, some 130 miles northwest of the Metroplex. The prison has a national reputation for brutality.

The day after he was sentenced, the same day he pled guilty to Katie's assault, he gave a jailhouse interview to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. He was as chirpy and defiant with reporter Deanna Boyd as he'd been with reporters during his career.

"I don't believe I was proven guilty of the charge. I believe I was proven guilty of my lifestyle."

"I've always gone to the beat of my own drum, basically, and that probably did not help me. Maybe things would have been different if I was the straight-laced blue collar [type]. Who knows?" he said.

"I know I'm innocent and I don't believe I was proven guilty of the charge," he said. "I believe I was proven guilty of my lifestyle."

He admitted to having a sexual relationship with Jennifer, but said he waited until she was of age.

"I'm playing for one of the biggest organizations in the world. There's no way they're going to allow improprieties like that."

Asked about the finality of going to prison, his mood changed. "This is not like a rain delay, that the game can be called and you start all over," he said.

Hallsentence_mediumMel Hall during his sentencing in June 2009. (Getty Images)

* * *

Soon after Hall was sentenced, a pro-Hall website sprung up called MelHallJr.com, which promised to tell "The Real Story of Mel Hall Jr." To this day, authorities are not certain who was responsible. The site aimed "to explain the atrocities of Mel Hall's case, increase awareness, inspire and empower prevention. It is a warning for all coaches, teachers, day-care providers, and volunteers whom decide to teach our youth. It is a warning for all professional athletes alike."

Hall's trial and sentencing did not prove that he was a serial sexual abuser of underage girls, the site claimed. Rather, they "revealed that inter-racial [sic] relationships, a flamboyant lifestyle, and ... ‘wearing a nice suit' are not admirable in the state of Texas."

It accused both the prosecutors and the judge of numerous instances of malfeasance, and it also included other discrediting information, such as the fact the judge had once been pulled over for speeding with alcohol on her breath and empty beer cans in her car.

It also identified Katie and Courtney by first and last name. It claimed, "It was obvious [that] Katie, along with several others, had been coached by the prosecution for years. Their acting in the courtroom was poor and pleas to the jury transparent."

When authorities discovered that the site had mentioned victims' names, they contacted the web hosting company and ordered it shut down. (Under Article 57.02 of the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure, disclosing the name of a sex assault victim who was under the age of 17 at the time is a Class C misdemeanor.)

An Internet campaign to discredit the young women and to clear Hall's name persists to this day.

Still, an Internet campaign to discredit the young women and to clear Hall's name persists to this day in the comments of various blogs and articles that mention Hall's conviction. His defender, or, perhaps, defenders, address even his minor moral offenses. On one blog, a commenter going by the name of "BW," ostensibly for "Bernie Williams," wrote, "Stop speaking about Mel Calling me a Zero we are friends and Always will be...."

On the topic of Jennifer, "BW" wrote, "She never got over him and that's Why he is in Jail Because of these Gold diggers."

Hall's victims were shaken up by the anonymous sniping at first, but since then their attitude has evolved into sickened quasi-amusement. The idea of a vast conspiracy theory to bring down Mel Hall is almost as absurd as the idea that Hall, at age 46, would make the biggest comeback in the history of baseball. The deluded grandiosity of the theory is in direct proportion to that of Hall himself. The notion that the girls were after Hall's money is undermined by the fact that Hall was found indigent prior to his appeal and was appointed an attorney by the court, and, more significantly, by the fact that neither Courtney nor Katie have filed a civil suit against Hall.

Said Katie, "They kept trying to say that it was a conspiracy, and we were after his fame and fortune. But he never was wealthy. He always needed money. He could never provide for himself at all."

Added Courtney, "At a certain point I was like, ‘Let them argue and do whatever they wanna do. I'm moving on with my life.'"

Both have basically been able to do that, but there have been some unsettling moments. Late in 2013, after becoming engaged, Katie received a typewritten letter with no return address. It read:

So you're engaged. How wonderful for you! I wonder if your finane [sic] knows everything about you. I wonder if he knows all that you're capable of. I wonder if he knows how you conspired to send an innocent man to prison for many years, destroying his life, hurting his children and his family. I wonder how he would respond to hearing you lie under oath, taunt his daughters and dance around like a teenager outside the courtroom.

Then, in early 2014, according to Katie, a heavyset woman with brown hair and brown eyes knocked on her door. Her attire was professional, her demeanor cordial. She had one question for Katie: Would her testimony about Mel Hall remain the same if there were a retrial? Katie was caught off guard, and didn't think to do anything but respond that yes, it would. The woman thanked her, and left before Katie could process what had just happened.

Several weeks before Katie was interviewed for this story, a woman who identified herself as Hall's wife contacted SBNation.com after being notified of a request for an interview with Mel Hall (which Hall subsequently declined). She wrote: "I appreciate your interest in my husband's story. That's the key. This has to be HIS story. The prosecution and his accusers already had their turn."

The woman, Elizabeth Hall, announced on her Facebook page that she married Hall in July of 2013, four years after he went to prison. Under the announcement, it says, "After all these years! Liz and Mel as it always should have been!"

Katie was unaware of Mrs. Hall's existence. When showed her Facebook page, she snapped up in recognition.

"Oh my God that is her!" she said. "Holy Cow, that's freaky."

When asked about this by email, Mrs. Hall denied ever contacting any of Hall's accusers, writing, "That must have been another Mrs. Hall, or perhaps the woman he was with during the time of the trial," a girlfriend she identified as "Tami." Mrs. Hall also claimed that "Tami" was responsible for MelHallJr.com. Contacted by phone on a Sunday morning in May, "Tami" said she was going to church and would call back, but she never did. Subsequent voice messages were not returned.

There was more that Mrs. Hall wanted known: She had dated Hall in high school and had become pregnant with his child in 1977, but put the baby girl up for adoption, a decision she called, "the great heartache of my life." She said she hopes to some day connect with her biological daughter.

She and Hall fell out of touch after high school. Then, in 2009, according to Mrs. Hall's email, "I was at work sitting at my desk when I received a very clear message in my head. A voice said very clearly, ‘Check on Mel, he's in trouble.'"

She went on the Internet and saw that Hall had been sentenced four days prior. "I had no doubt that this was some kind of huge mistake," she wrote.

The two began a pen-pal correspondence, fell back in love, and got married. She moved to southern Oklahoma, an hour and a half from the Allred Unit, to be close to him: "I love my husband and will stand by him for as long as it takes," she wrote.

She wrote that she read the transcript of the trial and was "appalled by the inadequacy of his attorneys." His conviction, she wrote, "was just accusations, no charges, no witnesses. Disgusting! Outrageous!"

As for the motivations of his accusers, she suggested a conspiracy between two of his ex-wives. However, she acknowledged, "This sounds like quite a soap opera. It's all hearsay on my part. I only know what I've been told."

Mrs. Hall wrote that she is "working on trying to forgive those that did this to him. I encourage those responsible to make things right with God and undo the evil that has been done here."

She added, "I look forward to reading your story. Hopefully I won't be disappointed."

* * *

Jennifer Diaz was reluctant to be interviewed for this article. She credits her Christian faith for enabling her to progress from anger to forgiveness toward her parents, with whom she still maintains a relationship, albeit a strained one. She worried that the article would dredge up the bad memories and vilify her parents and even Hall. She didn't want to be put in a position of piling on.

"I just wanted to face you and [let] you know that I know that it was wrong and you didn't get away with it."

"My story is the aftermath," she said. "It's God rescuing me out of that horrible situation and healing me."

But forgiveness wouldn't have been possible without fully reckoning with what happened. For years, Jennifer was led to believe by people close to her that what Hall was doing to her was normal. It was an important part of her journey to forgiveness to be able to say to Hall on the stand, "I just wanted to face you and [let] you know that I know that it was wrong and you didn't get away with it. I'm here today — 20 years later — to look you in the eye."

For Katie, now a teacher and basketball coach, coming forward about Hall allowed her to confront what she described as "the scared little girl feeling" she had carried since she was assaulted.

"Before I got it out in the open, it was that feeling of, ‘What did I do, what did I lose?' But now that everything's out in the open, you just survive, you just move on. Like everybody has an awful past about something," she said.

As a basketball team captain and now as a coach, Katie is a natural leader. Deciding to come forward about Hall, and leading others to do the same, was the most important use of her leadership skills.

"Katie was our absolute hero," Prosecutor D'Avignon said. "Without her being like, ‘However bad this happened to me, I can't let this happen to someone else,' without her being brave enough, we never would have exposed all this."

A month after Hall was imprisoned for assaulting her, Courtney met a young man who would become her first boyfriend, and then would become her husband. The couple now has a small child.

Prosecutors D'Avignon and Jack were invited to Courtney's wedding, but were unsure how to introduce themselves to people because they didn't know if Hall's assault of her was known. But during Courtney's father's wedding toast, he thanked them specifically, telling them, "You gave her back."

Although each remains protective of her privacy, Courtney, Katie, and Jennifer have worked to get to a point where they have nothing to hide from people close to them. As Courtney put it, "I'm not glad that it happened, but it's part of me now. And I'm happy with who I am."

Producer: Chris Mottram | Development: Josh Laincz | Editor: Glenn Stout | Copy Editor: Kevin Fixler

The author would like to thank Prosecutors Kim D'Avignon and Christy Jack, Investigator Bryan Moody, and Public Information Officer Melody McDonald Lanier of the Tarrant County District Attorney's office for their assistance and cooperation.

Special thanks to Jennifer Diaz, Courtney Miller, Katie Bentley, and Christina Fuoco.

Greg Hanlon's writing has appeared in The New York Times, Sports on Earth, Capital New York, The New York Observer, Slate and The Classical. He lives in New Jersey. Follow him at @greghanlon. Read his first SB Nation Longform piece, "The Sordid End of David Meggett."

About the Author

Greg_hanlon_mugshot_2

Greg Hanlon's writing has appeared in The New York Times, Capital New York, The New York Observer, Slate and The Classical. He lives in New Jersey.

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