40th anniversary: Kekich-Peterson wife swap story

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.

Day-versaries

1,000 days since Derrek Lee hits his 300th career home run.

1,000 days since Carlos Lee can claim something no one else in baseball history can, as today he becomes the first player to hit his second career extra-inning grand slam.

2,000 days since Albert Pujols gets two sacrifice flies in one game. To date, it’s the only time he’s done that.

3,000 days since the White Sox claim talented but troubled reliever Bobby Jenks off waivers from the Angels.

3,000 days since the Red Sox sign free agent pitcher David Wells.

3,000 days since the Mariners sign free agent third baseman Adrian Beltre.

5,000 days since the 1,765th and final baseball game takes place in Seattle’s Kingdome. A crowd of 56,530 sees the Mariners top the Rangers, 5-2.

5,000 days since Tim Wakefield suffers his worst ever WPA game: -0.712 WPA when he allows three runs on three hits and a walk while getting two outs in a ninth-inning relief stint. The White Sox beat the Red Sox, 7-6, due to his bad outing.

6,000 days since Boston fires manager Kevin Kennedy.

9,000 days since the Phillies fire manager Jim Fregosi.

9,000 days since Ken Griffey Sr. gets his 2,000th hit.

20,000 days since Brooks Robinson hits into a triple play. It’s the first of a record four he’ll hit into.

20,000 days since Whitey Ford ties an AL record by fanning six straight batters.

50,000 days since the birth of Hall of Fame pitcher Vic Willis.

Anniversaries

1860 Hall of Fame outfielder Sam Thompson is born.

1888 The American Association (a major league at the time) mandates that turnstiles must be used in all parks.

1888 Jeff Tesreau, a terrific pitcher for John McGraw’s Giants before blowing out his arm, is born.

1889 Boston returns former star and future Hall of Famer Deacon White to the Detroit Wolverines after purchasing White (along with half of Detroit’s roster) back in October. White won’t have to stay with the collapsing Wolverine franchise, though, as they sell him to Pittsburgh that same day.

1897 Dave Foutz, star 1880s pitcher, dies.

1898 Brooklyn purchases former batting champion Tommy Tucker from Washington for $800.

1901 Star slugger Buck Freeman jumps from the Braves to the Red Sox.

1921 Slap hitter Elmer Valo is born.

1922 Babe Ruth signs a three-year contract with the Yankees worth $50,000 per year.

1930 Del Crandall, catcher, is born.

1941 Dodger executive Larry MacPhail orders that all Dodger players must live in Brooklyn.

1947 Kent Tekulve, longtime Pirates stud reliever and the second man ever to pitch in 1,000 games, is born.

1964 Atlanta’s Mayor Ivan Allen Jr. says he has a verbal commitment from Major League Baseball to have a club in his town by 1965 if there is a stadium.

1965 Pepper Martin, outfielder for the 1934 Gashouse Gang world champion Cardinals team, dies.

1966 The Players Association makes one of the greatest moves in American labor history, voting for Marvin Miller to head its union. The vote is 489-136 in favor of Miller.

1975 Boston signs free agent Tony Conigliaro, whose career hasn’t gone according to plan.

1976 White Sox star slugger and franchise fixture Paul Konerko is born.

1979 Erik Bedard, talented but ultimately fragile starting pitcher, is born.

1982 Seattle signs Gaylord Perry, who will win his 300th game with the club.

1986 Milwaukee trades Ted Simmons to Atlanta for three players.

1992 Yankees pitcher Pascual Perez fails a drug test, earning him a one-year suspension.

2008 The Red sign free agent Corey Patterson.

2010 Boston prospect Ryan Westmoreland is diagnosed with a cavernous malformation of the brain, which has effects similar to a stroke.

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