Baseball’s Strangest Trade

Today, the thirty Major League Baseball teams are in “Spring Training,” a two-month period where they get in shape for the regular season. Some teams are in Florida, some are in Arizona, but all are doing the same thing: playing exhibition games as management makes the final tweaks to the rosters before the new season starts on March 30th. There will likely be a few players changing teams before now and then — trades are common in baseball, and more so during Spring Training than in some other months.

Sometimes, though, the trades are a little weird. There are many stories of teams trading players away and receiving only a dollar in return. In 1960, two teams traded managers. In April 1962, the Cleveland Indians traded catcher Harry Chiti to the New York Mets for a “player to be named later,” and in June of that year, the Mets sent Chiti back to Cleveland to complete the trade. And there are lots of examples of Major League franchises acquiring the rights to players on independent teams in exchange for new supplies or even a fence.

And then there was the Peterson-Kekich deal — which makes the alleged Winfield for dinner swap seem quaint.

In 1973, Fritz Peterson and Mike Kekich, pictured with their wives Marilyn and Susan, above, were both pitchers for the New York Yankees. Peterson was the better of the two; he had made the All-Star team a few years prior — and figured to be an important part of the Yankees pitching staff for the 1973 season. Kekich was not nearly as good, although he was expected to also pitch for the team regularly. But on March 5, 1973 — fifty years ago yesterday — both pitchers were center stage for a press conference announcing that they were part of a trade.

Neither was leaving the Yankees, though. They were leaving their wives — to go to the other pitcher’s family.

As New York Magazine would later explain, before the 1969 season, “Kekich was traded to New York, where he became the roommate of Fritz Peterson. Fritz and Mike, along with their spouses, Marilyn Peterson and Susanne Kekich, grew close. It made sense. Both couples had young children about the same age, and all four had some higher education, which set them apart from baseball’s still-ambient redneck culture.” The couples would go on double dates and, in 1972, even went to dinner at the home of baseball writer Maury Allen. (Per New York Mag, “back then, it was not unusual for ballplayers to spend time with reporters.”) And at that dinner or thereabouts, the two couples made a realization: neither match was really working out. On the other hand, both wives seemed to take a liking to the other’s husband. Someone made a joke about swapping wives, and over time, the joke became less funny and more real. As ESPN reported, “during the [1972-1973] offseason, Mike moved in with Marilyn [Peterson], and Fritz moved in with Susan [Kekich]. They had swapped it all — wives, houses, cars and kids.’We didn’t do anything sneaky or lecherous,” explained Susan. “There isn’t anything smutty about this.'”

Trading yourself to another family isn’t something you can keep a secret, and that’s doubly the case if you’re a somewhat-famous baseball player. Before Spring Training 1973 began, the Peterson-Kekich life swap was known throughout the Yankees’ organization; Kekick had even asked the team not to trade him so he could be close to his kids (who were now living with Frtiz Peterson). In hopes of getting ahead of a story that could be seen as scandalous, the two pitchers called together reporters at the Yankees’ Spring Training facility and broke the news themselves. But the reaction, as they probably knew, was hardly positive. For example, the commissioner of baseball, Bowie Kuhn, castigated the players and said that “it’s a most regrettable situation that does no good for sporty in general.”

The trade didn’t work out well for Kekich; even before the pitchers announced the swap, he and Marilyn Peterson had all but broken up. (The New York Daily News article from the day after the press conference stated that the two had an “on-again, off-again relationship since December 14, when the switch took place.” And in June of the 1973 baseball season, the Yankees traded him to Cleveland. Peterson fared better; he and Susan ultimately ended up marrying each other. He finished 1973 as a Yankee and was also traded to Cleveland in 1974, but Kekich was no longer there; the Indians released him in March, and he went to Japan to continue his pro career.

Bonus fact: You’ll note that, in the picture above, neither of the pitchers have beards and their hair doesn’t extend past their collars (although it’s close in both cases). That may just have been the pitchers’ preferences — but it also may have been because of the New York Yankees’ grooming policies. Before the 1973 season, shipping magnate George Steinbrenner bought the Yankees and, in an effort to establish a culture of discipline, instituted a grooming code. Players aren’t allowed beards or long hair. And sometimes, that’s caused problems for players who are traded to the Yankees — but Steinbrenner stood firm. For example, before the 1974 season, the Yankees traded for outfielder Lou Pinella. Per Mel Magazine, Pinella “supposedly told the owner, ‘I don’t understand, Mr. Steinbrenner, what long hair has to do with your ability to play baseball. I’m a Christian. Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ had hair down to the middle of his back, and it didn’t affect the way he went about his work.’According to Pinella, Steinbrenner in response showed him a nearby pond, commenting, ‘It’s about seven to eight feet deep. If you can walk across it, you can wear your hair as long as you want.’” Pinella got a haircut and remained with the Yankees for a decade thereafter. 

From the Archives: When a Baseball Team Traded for Runs: Another weird baseball trade, but no wives or children were involved.