If you follow baseball, it’s probably come to your attention that the Yankees under the Steinbrenner family are one of the most conservative and “wholesome” teams in the sport. When first baseman Jason Giambi left the Oakland A’s to join the Yankees for the 2002 season, there was a whole big story about whether he would cut his facial hair off to meet the Yankees’ ridiculous 1950s-era standards. (He did.)
But it wasn’t always so: the Yankees were once the most out-there team in the league. They had freethinker Jim Bouton in the early 1960s; his 1970 memoir Ball Four is one of the essential baseball reads—Bouton would do things like ask his teammates if there were really a good reason for the U.S. to be in Vietnam—rest assured that he was one of the few guys in conservative major-league clubhouses to be wondering about such things.
But in 1972 the Yankees set a whole new standard in terms of departing from regular family values, because that was the year that lefthanded pitchers Fritz Peterson and Mike Kekich swapped not just wives but their whole families.
Kekich and Peterson were very close. They both pitched for the Yankees, and they became inseparable friends in 1969. They both lived in New Jersey, and their families did things together all the time, like go to the Bronx Zoo together. In 1972, the couples went out together to see The Godfather, and someone brought up the subject of wife swapping. That summer, after a party at the home of sportswriter Maury Allen, Marilyn Peterson and Susan Kekich agreed to go home with the other woman’s husband. By October it was definitely official, the two men had traded houses, but the news hadn’t reached the media—that would have to wait until spring training the next year. On March 5, 1973, Peterson and Kekich made the announcement to the press. “We didn’t trade wives—we traded lives,” said Kekich. They swapped not just wives, but children, houses, cars—even pets. Lee MacPhail, general manager of the Yankees, joked (probably through gritted teeth) that “we may have to call off Family Day.”
Story from the Los Angeles Times, March 6, 1973
In David Fischer’s book 100 Things Yankees Fans Should Know and Do Before They Die, Jake Gibbs, a catcher for the Yankees and caught both pitchers, is quoted as saying, “They were fun-loving guys. Fritz and Mike were good friends. They were really close, and their families were close. I guess we just didn’t know how close. … Of course, they were both left-handers. You can never tell about lefties.”
Fritz Peterson and the former Mrs. Kekich—named Susan, who had two daughters at the time of the swap—are still together to this day; they have had four children together. Mike Kekich and the former Mrs. Peterson—named Marilyn, who had had two sons with Fritz—didn’t last as long. According to Dan Epstein’s book Big Hair and Plastic Grass: A Funky Ride Through Baseball and America in the Swinging 70s (which looks like an awful lot of fun), Kekich said later, “All four of us had agreed in the beginning that if anyone wasn’t happy, the thing would be called off. But when Marilyn and I decided to call it off, the other couple had already gone off with each other.” Susan Kekich said, “A lot of people get divorces. We didn’t do anything sneaky or lecherous. There isn’t anything smutty about this. We were all attracted to each other and we fell in love.”
Around 2010 there were stories that Ben Affleck and Matt Damon were planning to do a movie version of the Peterson-Kekich story called The Trade, but Affleck decided to win a few Oscars and take on the role of Batman instead. Honestly, I can’t figure out why HBO didn’t make this movie ten years ago.
There’s hardly any coverage of this on YouTube, but here’s Fritz Peterson pitching in the 1970 All-Star Game, giving up a base hit to Willie McCovey—Roberto Clemente and Earl Weaver also appear in the clip.
Previously on Dangerous Minds:
Mickey Mantle gets to third base at Yankee Stadium