Even Yankees GM Brian Cashman, who has been involved in some of baseball’s biggest trades over the years, would have been floored by an extraordinary trade that took place involving two Yankee pitchers almost 50 years ago.
An avant garde wife swap between two Yankees pitchers, Mike Kekich and Fritz (Fred) Peterson, became public in March 1973 just before the beginning of the regular season. The two teammates announced the event at old Fort Lauderdale Stadium in Florida during spring training. The bizarre trade actually took place in the summer of 1972.
Kekich, a southpaw, played between 1969 and 1973 for the Yanks and did not have a distinguished career on the mound. He pitched in 125 games for the Bombers, primarily as a starter, and had a 31-32 win-loss record with a 4.31 ERA. He pitched equally ineffectively for the other clubs he played for during his short time in MLB.
Peterson was a starting pitcher and was clearly the better hurler. He played for the Yanks between 1966 and 1974. He had a 109-106 win-loss record with a 3.10 ERA in 288 games. His best year with the Bombers was in 1970 when he went 20-11 and pitched in the All-Star game. He has the distinction of having the lowest ratio of walks per innings pitched for any left-handed pitcher in MLB since the 1920s.
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How it all started
The Kekichs and the Petersons lived in New Jersey and had been good friends since 1969. They were invited to a party on a Saturday night, had a couple of beers, and were having a great time. Former outfielder Ron Swoboda, who played his final three seasons (1971-1973) with the Yanks, said he attended the same party and remembered them being there.
The two couples had driven to the party in separate cars. Upon leaving they decided that Peterson’s wife, Marilyn, would ride with Mike, and Mike’s wife Susanne would ride with Fritz. They would meet at a diner in Fort Lee, New Jersey and both couples would then go home from there.
They all had so much fun together that they decided to do it again the next night when they went for dinner at a steakhouse. Mike and Marilyn left together early, and Fritz and Susanne stayed behind and had a few drinks. All four again had fun that evening. Eventually, Mike fell deeply in love with Fritz’s wife, Marilyn, and Fritz fell deeply in love with Mike’s wife, Susanne.
Both Yankee pitchers and their wives were so thrilled with their new lives off the field that they decided after the season to make their arrangement permanent. They all agreed that the kids should stay with their mothers. Susanne and her two daughters thus joined Fritz, and Marilyn and her two sons moved in with Mike. And just in case you are wondering, the dog in each household followed the wives, too, virtually eliminating any players to be named later.
Of course, this entire affair was taking place in the early 1970s, when alternative lifestyles were being discussed and debated, and when sexual liberation was taking place. Thus, the four of them did not think what was happening to them was such a big deal. However, following the day of the announcement at old Fort Lauderdale Stadium in Florida, the story hit the newspapers and television news, and it attracted an enormous amount of public interest and attention.
Now back to baseball. Kekich was traded to the Cleveland Indians that June (in 1973), and Peterson was also traded to Cleveland a year later. Fritz pitched only three more seasons after that. The blended families went their separate ways.
How it all ended
Both former players agree that it wasn’t an inappropriate or salacious affair. At the time, all four felt equally the same way. According to Kekich (and Peterson agrees), this wasn’t about wife swapping; it was about swapping lives.
In reacting to this distraction just before the season was about to begin, Ralph Houk, the Yankees skipper at the time (and an ex-marine), reflected on the changing times people were living in. Expressing empathy for the couples involved, he commented that those involved have many years to live and should do what is best for them.
Out loud Houk asked, why should people go through life unhappy and suffer? The Yankee manager commented that some believe that you have to stay together for the sake of the kids. Yet, often, we see couples living together, and they are practically separated.
Unfortunately, Mike and Marilyn became unhappy and they decided to split up. However, Fritz and Susanne’s relationship continued to blossom. Today they are still married, continue to go out and have fun, and feel like they are still on their honeymoon. Kekich admits that he is somewhat bitter because Peterson and Mike’s ex-wife, Susanne, are very happy together and that things did not work out for quite the same way for he and Marilyn.
Wouldn’t this make a terrific movie? Recently, Matt Damon and Ben Affleck thought so, and they wanted to turn the story they had purchased, The Trade, into a film. Peterson thought that it was a great idea and was all for it.
However, Kekich became panic-stricken when he was approached with the idea and was dismayed that those working on the movie found out where he now lives (Albuquerque, New Mexico with his (new) wife). For him, it turned out to be a tragedy on top of a nightmare. He has tried to move on, and he doesn’t want the incident to become a focus again. As a consequence, talks broke down, and, at least for now, the project is on hold.
What happens in baseball often mirrors what takes place in life. Like in life, players must deal with changes in their surroundings and their relationships with their teammates. Sometimes things don’t work out for whatever reasons, and players must deal with the consequences or be bitter for the rest of their lives.