The Yankee Swap

22 07 2011

The Oakland A’s had beaten Sparky Anderson‘s Reds in 7 games to win the 1972 World Series. Gaylord Perry and Nolan Ryan dominated the AL with their pitching prowness. The lowly 1972 Yankees were encouraged only by their powerful CF Bobby Murcer, as they finished a disappointing 4th in their division.

In 1973, the Yankees were bought for $10 million by a Cleveland shipbuilder by the name of George Steinbrenner, but the focus in spring training was on 2 Yankee lefty pitchers. On March 5, 1973, Mike Kekich and Fritz Peterson, 2/5 of the starting rotation, held a press conference at the teams’ training camp in Fort Lauderdale, Florida to announce that they had swapped lives. The first trade under the Steinbrenner regime had been completed!

31-yr old Fritz Peterson was already a 20-game winner and All Star in 1970, and was coming off a great individual ’72 campaign where he led the Yankees in wins with 17 and pitched to a 3.24 ERA. [ He was later recognized (in 2008) as the pitcher who had the all-time lowest earned run average at Yankee Stadium (2.52).]

28-yr old Mike Kekich was a California-kid, coming off a season where he was 10-13, but did pitch a career high 175.1 innings.

Both were good friends, on and off the field. The players and their spouses, Susanne Kekich and Marilyn Peterson, both lived in New Jersey with their respective children. They spent a lot of time together, and in 1972 it became clear that the two couples were doing much more than making up a foursome for bridge games.

They decided in the summer of 1972 that Mike would be more compatible with Peterson’s wife, Marilyn, and Fritz would be better off with Mike’s wife, Suzanne. So, as the ’72 baseball season winded down, the 2 players decided to swap. And they didn’t just swap wives. They swapped kids, homes, even dogs.

“Don’t make anything sordid out of this,” Peterson said at the press conference.

Kekich agreed, and told the media, “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.”

This created quite a stir to say the least. Baseball Commissioner Bowie Kuhn later said that he received more mail that year criticizing the couples than he did about the American League’s addition of the designated hitter to the game that season.

Four months after deciding on the switch, Fritz and Suzanne stayed together, but Mike and Marilyn did not. The new Mr and Mrs Peterson officially married and later had four children together.

The careers of both pitchers went downhill after the swap. Kekich was traded to Cleveland early into the 1973 season, and later said that after the swap, “my whole career went into a black hole. It was awful.”

After the swap, Peterson was often booed in ballparks, and never came close to his success of 1972 and prior. Former teammate Fred Beene said “Fritz was never the same after the swap. He was practically destroyed by all the negative reaction.” After his career, Fritz worked as a blackjack dealer and also wrote a book – Mickey Mantle is going to Heaven.

Sidenote: Peterson and Beene ended up being part of another famous swap – the 1974 trade with Cleveland that brought former 1st overall pick Chris Chambliss to the Yankees.

Former best friends Peterson and Kekich reportedly haven’t talked since 1979, but they will forever be remembered and linked in Yankees lore. In fact, you can look out for a Warner Bros movie, The Trade, being written and produced by Red Sox fan Ben Afleck, and also reportedly starring Matt Damon.




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