“We didn’t swap wives — we swapped lives.”
— Mike Kekich
“Don’t make anything sordid out of this.”
— Fritz Peterson
It was only the strangest trade in baseball history.
On March 5, 1973, at the New York Yankees’ spring training camp in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., pitchers Mike Kekich and Fritz Peterson announced they had swapped wives, two children apiece and even family dogs. (For the record, the Kekiches had a terrier, the Petersons a poodle.)
This would have been big news had the two hurlers — both left-handers, of course — played in, say, Milwaukee or Cincinnati. But because they pitched for baseball’s most famous club in the nation’s largest city, the unexpected news traveled faster than any pitch thrown by either.
It didn’t matter that a syndicate headed by an unknown Cleveland shipbuilder named George Steinbrenner just had bought the Yankees from CBS. It didn’t matter that Yankees journeyman Ron Blomberg would become baseball’s first designated hitter a few weeks later. The story throughout baseball that spring clearly was Kekich and Peterson.
Or Peterson and Kekich. To many, the two seemed interchangeable — in public and, more interestingly, in private.
The ballplayers and their spouses, Susanne Kekich and Marilyn Peterson, had been friends since 1969. Both families lived in New Jersey, and their children were about the same age. Often they all would visit the Bronx Zoo or the shore or enjoy a picnic together. Friends and neighbors marveled at how close they were.
At some point during the 1972 season, Mike Kekich fell for Marilyn Peterson, and Fritz Peterson fell for Susanne Kekich. Who knows how or why? All we know is that something happened to all four.
Baseball commissioner Bowie Kuhn was “appalled” but powerless to interfere. Kuhn later said he received more mail about the swap than about the American League’s introduction of the DH — another development that made baseball purists gnash their teeth and rend their garments that year.
The only light moment came when Yankees general manager Lee MacPhail cracked, “We may have to call off Family Day.”