Yankees History: The curious of tale of Fritz Peterson and Mike Kekich

Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports
Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports /

The Yankees, over the year, have had their share of incidents that compelled the tabloids to have a feeding frenzy. But none of those stories is more compelling than what happened in the lives of two Yankees pitchers in the early 1970’s.

The Yankees and the rest of Major League Baseball continued to play ball during the culturally tumultuous decades of the 1960’s and 1970’s. All the games counted in the standings and World Champions were crowned just as they were in all other years.

But for the young men who played the game in those years, they could not escape the impact of what was going on around them. Demonstrations in the streets protesting a war no one wanted but the generals, a crook in the White House, sexual freedom and more all came with a cost attached to them.

And for two Yankees pitchers, the impact that swelled from those years could not have been more demonstrative when they found themselves in a situation that was unbelievable, even to themselves. In 1973, Fritz Peterson and Mike Kekich swapped wives, legally.

Their story is filled with irony, compassion, and most of all, curiosity. Fortunately for us, or at least those of us who are curious as to how and why this could have happened between two Yankees teammates, both men are forthright in telling their story, albeit with perhaps a bit more drama than necessary at times (a movie was later made).

The story announcing the new living arrangement of both men and their wives,  Susanne Kekich and  Marilyn Peterson, first appeared in the New York Daily News in an article written by Phil Pepe, one of the best baseball writers of his times.

Kekich was the first to comment publicly telling Pepe:

"According to Kekich: “Unless people know the full details, it could turn out to be a nasty type thing. Don’t say this was wife-swapping, because it wasn’t. We didn’t swap wives, we swapped lives.”"

In the same story, however, it was also reported that:

"Kekich, who is 27, however, admitted he is somewhat bitter because Peterson and Mike’s wife, Susanne are very happy together, but Mike and Peterson’s wife, Marilyn, have separated."

For the Yankees, the events of the day presented an interesting challenge for them as they sought to reflect the harsh rays of the story from the team and the season that was well under way.

But even Ralph Houk, the Yankees manager at the time and an ex-marine at that could be seen affected by the changing times he was living in adding a dose of compassion to the conversation:

"“They live their own lives,” Houk said, “and they’ve got a lot of years to live. If you’re not happy, you go only through the world one time and why go through it unhappy? Some people say you have to stay together for the sake of the kids. We’ve seen people living together and they’re practically separated.”"

Forty years later in 2013, Peterson would provide a more detailed account of the events leading up to the eventual swapping of wives, or husbands depending on how you look at it. Peterson, now 70, appears to be more concerned with the proposal put forth by Ben Affleck and Matt Damon to make a movie from the story, tentatively titled, “The Trade.”

But overall, he couldn’t be happier, telling the Palm Beach Post:

"“I could not be happier with anybody in the world. ‘Mama’ and I go out and party every night,’’ he said. “We’re still on the honeymoon and it has been a real blessing.’’"

Meanwhile, Kekich is a little harder to track down as all he wants to do, apparently, is live a quiet life in New Mexico and far out of the Hollywood spotlight. In one report, Kekich is quoted as saying:

"A source tells us, “Kekich is panic-stricken. He has moved away and has a new identity. He is freaked out that those working on the movie found out where he is. He isn’t too keen on having the scandal dredged up again after all this time."

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Who can tell? Who’s to say? All we can say for sure is that this is one of those compelling baseball stories that is far removed from the playing field. It’s a human story involving four adults and four children with consequences on everyone along the way.

Lives were changed, careers were altered, never to be the same again. In that perspective, it’s no different than the line drive off the bat of Gil McDougal that virtually ended the budding career of Herb Score. Or, the one pitch that doomed the career causing near blindness of Red Sox slugger, Tony Conigliaro.

These are fleeting moments in people’s lives that have far-reaching consequences. And no one can speak better than that today than two Yankees pitchers who happened to ride with each other’s wives on the way to a diner for a bite to eat before going home.