On March 5, 1973, Fritz Peterson and Mike Kekich, best friends and teammates with the Yankees, engaged in the oddest trade in the history of sports, and possibly American culture in general. No, they didn’t trade gloves, or hats or even lockers. They traded families, and they started their new lives 36 years ago today. While the event is usually remembered for its sheer absurdity, it does have a legacy that lives today: It helped emphasize the need for absolute privacy in athletes’ personal lives away from the field.
(The original Kekiches on the left and Petersons on the right.)
The move has certainly changed the lives of both pitchers. Peterson still lives with Susanne Kekich, but Mike Kekich and Marilyn Peterson lasted only a few months. Neither pitcher lasted more than another few years in the major leagues, either, with Peterson flaming out with the Indians a year later and Kekich struggling to stay in the bigs for three more years, pitching for the Nippon Ham Fighters in Japan a year after the wife swap just to keep his career on track.
The saddest part of the story is that, because of lingering animosity, the two pitchers don’t even talk any more, and they reportedly haven’t spoken since 1979. Neither has been able to find business success, with Peterson struggling as a boat salesman outside Chicago (according to a 2005 article in the WASHINGTON TIMES) and Kekich a failed medicine salesman outside Albuquerque. They don’t even like to leave home for fear of being recognized.
(Kekich and Peterson, after the swap.)
And that’s the most interesting part of the story. When the pair admitted they had swapped families, it’s almost as if they thought the general public would be fine with it. Instead, America reared back and lashed out at them, shaking Peterson’s confidence and sending Kekich out of New York to avoid the boos and isolation. When A-Rod travels to visiting stadiums after an affair with a blond call girl, he expects to get booed. Why Peterson thought infidelity — and infidelity with their friend’s wife — would be treated any different is one of the more curious questions of professional sports in the 70s. Loose era or not, that was never going to fly.
In fact, it’s that reaction that has created the true legacy of the infamous deal: The push by contemporary players to keep everything about their private lives out of the public eye. The outright scorn faced by Peterson and Kekich was beyond what players had seen for social factors, at least those that weren’t race-related.
Peterson and Kekich may have ruined their own careers when they opened up about their personal lives, but they also may have saved thousands that have followed in the process.