December 11, 2013
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Tuesday, March 05, 2013
Forty years ago, news of one of baseball’s stranger and more bizarre off-field stories first broke. There’s never been another story quite like it.
On March 5, 1973, reports came out that Yankee pitchers Mike Kekich and Fritz Peterson had swapped wives. Heck, they swapped entire families—wives, children, and even family dogs went in the trade.
Yup, can’t say I’ve heard of that one happening too many other times. Well, perhaps it would be more accurate to say that hasn’t happened too many other times in baseball. It’s not a literally unique event from that era. Not that wife swapping was ever normal, but what Kekich and Peterson did was in part an outgrowth of the era.
The availability of the pill made birth control much easier. The series of social revolutions of the 1960s and early 1970s had included the sexual revolution, and it didn’t hurt that you had an enormous cohort of young Americans now coming of age in the early 1970s.
Kekich and Peterson had known each other for several years. Peterson had debuted with the Yankees in 1966, and in the 1968-69 offseason, the Dodgers traded Kekich to the Bronx.
From 1969 to 1972, they both were warhorses in the Yankees rotation. Peterson was more effective, winning 20 games in 1969, while Kekich bounced between the bullpen and the rotation as needed. As longtime teammates, they hit it off and spent considerable time together. They both married, spent plenty of time with each other’s spouses and children, and still got along.
By 1972, they noticed they were more than getting along. A definite cross-couple attraction had apparently developed, and that offseason they made their historic trade of families.
It wound up working much better for Peterson. He and the former Susanne Kekich fell in love and got married. In fact, 40 years later, they are still a happily married couple with four kids of their own. Marilyn Peterson and Mike Kekich didn’t hit it off as well. They never married and soon broke up.
Though the swap occurred in October of 1972, the public didn’t know about it until March of 1973. When the story broke, though, the papers predictably ate it up. It was scandal, it was sex, it was strange. In the midst of the media fiasco, one Yankee official lamented that the club might have to call off Family Day.
The club, under rookie owner George Steinbrenner, wanted nothing to do with the joke. Kekich missed the entire first month of the season and was ineffective when he did begin pitching, so the club quickly traded him off to Cleveland.
Peterson survived the year with the Yankees but in early 1974 was sent packing as part of a package deal for first baseman Chris Chambliss. As it happened, Peterson also went to Cleveland. But there was no reunion with his former teammate and ex-wife. The Indians had cut Kekich a month earlier.
There’s never been a story quite like it, and people first heard about it 40 years ago today.
Aside from that, many other baseball events today celebrate their anniversary or “day-versary (which is something that happened X-thousand days ago). Here they are, with the better ones in bold if you’d rather just skim.
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