The Infamous Trade Of ’72
The image of our sports heroes have become tarnished ever since Bouton’s infamous baseball diary, “Ball Four.” As Art Spander stated in his April 1973 column for The Sporting News, “Baseball is deceptively simple, a man throwing a ball, another trying to catch it.” Before Bouton’s book, the players we knew only went to church, signed autographs and hit home runs. At least this is what we were led to believe. Reporters who covered teams, covered up the scandals, they were an extension for the club’s public relations department. For many years, baseball players were not human. They were Gods!
There was a story told by Yankee reporters during the heyday of Babe Ruth. It seems that on a train ride, the Babe ran through the car naked, with a naked woman chasing after him, armed with a knife. One of the reporters told his peers, “You know if she stabs him, we’re going to have to write about it.” This was an example of the ‘un-written’ law among the beat writers around baseball. This was true until the news broke out about the Peterson/ Kekich swap during the Yankees’ spring training camp in 1973!
Was it the biggest trade ever? That could be argued, but it was definitely the weirdest, no contest. This was not a trade between two teams; instead it involved two players from the same team, namely left-handed pitchers Fritz Peterson and Mike Kekich. The Yankee teammates swapped wives, children and dogs. At the press conference, Kekich adamantly declared that; “We didn’t trade wives, we traded lives!”
Apparently the affair began in 1972, when the two couples joked on a double date about wife swapping, which had become a phenomenon at the time. According to one source the first swap took place in the summer of 1972 after a party hosted by New York City sportswriter Maury Allen. To reiterate what Kekich said, the two players traded families. Peterson traded his wife Marylyn, known for her mini skirts and white go-go boots, their two children and the family poodle. In return, he received Susan Kekich, Mike’s attractive athletic-looking wife, their two kids and a Belington Terrier. The two families had been friends since 1969.
New Yankee GM Lee McPhail remarked “We may have to call off ‘Family Day.’”
Jake Gibbs, their former catcher on the Yankees was stunned by the announcement. He remembered them as ‘fun-loving’ guys who brought their wives and children to the family picnics that the team would have. “Fritz and Mike were good friends. Both they and their families were real close, we just didn’t know how close. Of course, you can never tell about lefties!”
Commissioner Bowie Kuhn labeled it “Deplorable!” He condemned the two women as well as the two players.
Kekich recalled “Marylyn and I thought we were perfectly suited, just like Fritz and Susan. Marylyn was for the swap in the beginning, but then she backed off. In the beginning all four of us had agreed if anyone wasn’t happy, the whole thing would be called off. But when Marilyn and I decided to call it off, the other couple already had gone with each other.”
Fritz and Susan’s relationship was a success; they are still married to this day. They even have four children from their own union.
Fellow Yankee pitcher Fred Beene observed “Fritz was never the same after the swap. He was practically destroyed by all of the negative reactions.”
(Peterson was roundly booed in nearly every American League ballpark after the swap became known.)
As far as pitching ability, Peterson was a better pitcher. He had great stuff and super control. He had some great years, such as 1970 when he went 20-11 and pitched in the All-Star game. Kekich had good stuff but didn’t always know where it was going. Kekich was traded to Cleveland during the 1973 season. Fritz was the better pitcher of the two and also seemed to get the better of the unusual trade.
As one might expect, Kekich and Peterson were never close again.
In a way, this was ironic because the ABC network debut a program called “Wife Swap” that debuted in 2004. The general premise was two families, usually from different social classes and lifestyles swap wives/mothers. Unlike the Yankee families, they did not share a bed!
Before the swap, Fritz Peterson was 17-15, with a 2.90 Era in 1972. The year following the swap he was 8-15, 3.95 Era.
Mike Kekich’s statistics decline also, he was 10-13, 3.90 Era in 1972 but 2-5, 7.52 combined for New York and the Cleveland Indians during 1973.
Neither were ever the same after the swap. Peterson was out of baseball in 1977 and Kekich in 1978. Fritz became a color commentary for the NY Raiders of the WHA hockey league, a black jack dealer, an evangelist and an author. Kekich played in Japan and Mexico; he then tried medical school in Mexico and is now an insurance adjuster in New Mexico.
Sports fans talk about the biggest trades of all time. There was Ernie Broglio for Lou Brock, Hershel Walker to the Vikings or Nolan Ryan for Jim Fregosi. The Peterson/Kekich trade not as big, was undoubtedly the most memorable thing that happened during the Yankee years of Horace Clarke and Frank Tepidino!