by Ed Botti
January 31, 2021
With all of the talk and rumors circulating about potential Yankee trades, I started to think about the many many trades we have seen over the years. Some good, some bad, some indifferent.
But there was one that happened that falls into a completely different category.
On a warm summer off day in July 1972 famed New York Post Baseball writer Maury Allen, in an attempt to gain inside info on the current Yankee squad, invited Yankee Pitcher Fritz Peterson and his wife Marilyn to his home for a cook out.
Back then it was not uncommon at all for players to spend time together and socialize with reporters, and the Petersons and Allens were good friends.
On this particular day Peterson asked if he could bring along fellow Yankee pitcher and friend, Mike Kekich and his wife Susanne.
The innocent cook out set in motion one of the strangest stories in Yankee history. You might even say, one of the strangest trades in Yankee history.
Following the cook out, the Kekiches and Petersons began socializing together quite frequently.
Photo by Marty Lederhandler
After a short period of time both players realized that they had fallen in love with the other player’s wife, and the wives felt the same.
So the trade was made, Mike Kekich and Fritz Peterson, two Yankee lefty pitchers traded entire lives including wives, kids, dogs, cars and houses.
The only thing remaining to be done was tell the world about it.
Right off the bat, Peterson went to his friend Maury Allen and asked him to write a piece about the situation so the world can hear it in a way that wouldn’t make it sound too salacious and scandalous.
Talk about being given a tough assignment.
The players then decided to change course and tell the public themselves in the hopes that they could lay out all the facts and hope that it would simply clear the air, and they could move on with their careers in Pinstripes and new lives.
Incredibly, Kekich and Peterson actually didn’t think it was that big of a deal. To the rest of the country, fans and teammates though, it was a scandal like none other in recent memory.
During spring training in 1973 the two players decided to hold separate press conferences, and each would simply discuss their unusual arrangement and what led to it. Their hope was that the public would understand and move on.
Initially, that was not the case. I can still remember the whole scandal as a young little leaguer. You could not avoid it.
At the Mike Kekich press conference he stated “Unless people know the full details, it could turn out to be a nasty type thing,” followed by the classic line “Don’t say this was wife-swapping, because it wasn’t. We didn’t swap wives, we swapped lives.”
Fritz Peterson would say to the press that day “Don’t make anything sordid out of this.”
Famed Daily News and Yankee beat writer Phil Pepe stated “It was hard to know whether to laugh or cry.”
“George Steinbrenner bought the team weeks before, but mostly he walked around pointing at guys whose hair he thought was too long. Ralph Houk, the manager, sat there smoking a cigar, trying to keep a straight face.”
But all was not really well in this situation.
By the time of their spring-training press conferences, Kekich and Peterson were barely speaking to each other.
A lot had happened over the prior winter.
Like many normal baseball trades, this one was met with varying degrees of success. Fritz Peterson and Susanne Kekich were happy and content. Mike Kekich and Marilyn Peterson were not happy, and wanted out.
Kekich maintained that the deal was that everyone had agreed that if any of them were unhappy, the entire deal was off.
Peterson and Susanne Kekich wanted to stay together, and that was not changing.
The terms of the arrangement (“trade”) were that the children would stay with their mothers. However, since it wasn’t working out for Marilyn Peterson, she decided to take her children to her parents’ home in Illinois.
Since the Kekich children were with their mother and Fritz Peterson, Mike Kekich was now alone.
Once asked if he expected to be traded, Kekich said, “I’m here. We’re still teammates. I only want to be where Fritz is. It’s the only way I can be sure of seeing my daughters.”
But the Yankees, now run by George Steinbrenner, had different plans. The Yankees were on a mission to become champions, and George did not put up with mediocrity.
After a poor start to the 1973 season, Kekich was traded to the Cleveland Indians.
Peterson finished the 1973 season with a terrible 8-15 record and was also traded to Cleveland in the Chris Chambliss, Dick Tidrow deal.
A great trade for the Yankees.
But, they would not be reunited in Cleveland. Kekich had already moved on from Cleveland and was heading off to Japan.
Of the two Yankees, Peterson was the funny and outgoing one; the clubhouse jokester. He would play gags on his teammates such as putting talcum powder in Joe Pepitone’s hair dryer. For those of you that don’t remember Pepitone; that was probably something that made the entire clubhouse fall to the ground in laughter.
Peterson would also print up fake newspapers with stories, such as one about how the Yankees plane had crashed and he was the only survivor. A very foreboding gag, since he was a teammate of Thurman Munson.
He once played a joke on Thurman Munson who had sent away for a holster for his hand gun. A Right handed holster, obviously. The story goes that Peterson switched the order to a left-handed holster. When it arrived Munson had to send it back for a refund. Peterson wasn’t finished, he then got in touch with the company and asked them to send Munson a booklet on how to draw a gun left-handed.
Peterson on the mound was a different story. Few in the league had better control. In his twentywin 1970 season (20-11) Peterson pitched 260 innings and walked only 40 batters.
Of pitchers making a significant number of starts at the old stadium, Peterson has the lowest ERA, better than Whitey Ford, Lefty Gomez, and Red Ruffing. He also has the lowest ratio of walks per innings pitched for any left-handed pitcher to pitch in the major leagues since the 1920s.
Kekich was different. He was laid-back, California raised beach boy. Someone who would use the word “dude” in most conversations.
He actually was once considered the next Sandy Koufax when the Dodgers gave him a $50,000 signing bonus in 1964. The problem for Kekich, like so many before and since, was that he could throw the ball as hard as anyone, but couldn’t locate the plate.
Tommy Lasorda then a coach with the Dodgers called him “a little goofy”. So, Kekich was traded to the Yankees in 1968 for Andy Kosco, where he became the roommate of Fritz Peterson.
And as they say, the rest is history.
Incredibly enough the scandal died down pretty quickly all things considered, the public just found something more interesting to focus on, and the publicity around the Mike Kekich and Fritz Peterson arrangement flickered off.
However, when it came to the Trade, Peterson is generally considered to be the winner. After all, he and Susanne are still married today, with children of their own.
On July 23, 2018, Peterson announced on his Facebook page that he was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease.
Mike Kekich and Marilyn Peterson parted ways many years ago. Kekich is remarried and currently lives near Albuquerque, New Mexico.
The two players who were once roommates haven’t spoken in 20 years, possibly more.
Truly one of the oddest “trades” in Yankee history.