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The Big Trade

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Kekich and Peterson joking in the Yankees' locker room before the swap.   

Mike Kekich was a different story. Tan, tall, and tooling around in a Route 66–era sports car, the laid-back, earnest Kekich fit the image of a Cali-bred Roy Hobbs. Touted as the second coming of Sandy Koufax when the Dodgers gave him a 50-grand signing bonus, Kekich could throw the ball through a wall but couldn’t locate the plate. Considered “a little goofy” by Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda, 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.

“We had a tremendous amount of affection and compatibility all around,” Mike Kekich said. Fond of long, introspective conversations, Kekich was drawn to the thoughtful Marilyn Peterson, while Fritz, always in the moment, paired off with Susanne, a former cheerleader and cross-country runner. Gradually it became apparent to all four that perhaps they were married to the wrong people.

“By American standards, I had a good marriage,” Kekich said. “But I wanted a great marriage. I was idealistic, I guess.”

The Trade couldn’t happen today, said a fan: “What wife with a $14 mil player is switching to a $4 mil player?”

As one version of the story goes, the Trade was arranged on July 15, 1972, outside the home of Post Yankees beat writer Maury Allen in Dobbs Ferry. Back then, it was not unusual for ballplayers to spend time with reporters. They traveled on the same planes, stayed at the same hotels, made about the same amount of money. That evening, however, something was up, Allen thought. Marilyn Peterson, pretty, petite, and “sophisticated,” usually wore a blonde wig because that’s the way Fritz liked it. On that night, she arrived with her natural hair color. Allen thought she looked sweeter, younger, looser.

Only weeks before, Marilyn had spoken with Allen’s wife, asking her how many times a week it was normal to have sex. The implication was that Fritz was a somewhat reluctant bedroom partner, at least as far as Marilyn was concerned. As Allen later wrote in his book All Roads Lead to October, Susanne Kekich, whom he describes as “a tall brunette—athletic-looking and aggressive,” seemed to be “competing” with Marilyn for Fritz’s attention. Hours later, Allen and his wife heard the Kekiches and Petersons still in the driveway, supposedly discussing the fine points of the swap. As dawn approached, the two couples, now realigned, went off in separate cars, agreeing to meet at an all-night diner in Fort Lee, New Jersey. Fritz and Susanne had already finished eating breakfast when Marilyn and Mike arrived, two hours later.

By their spring-training press conference, Kekich and Peterson were hardly speaking to each other. Much had happened in the interim. The couples did “swap lives,” moving in with each other’s spouses in the fall of 1972, with differing degrees of success. Peterson and Susanne Kekich were happy. Kekich and Marilyn Peterson were not. The physical attraction between Marilyn and himself was strong, Kekich would say, but since they were “born under the same sign, we sometimes butt heads. She and I are on a higher pitch in our emotions.” Kekich claimed everyone had agreed that if any of them were unhappy, the entire deal was off. Peterson said they had already tried that (the couples had attempted to reunite for a time) and it hadn’t worked.

In a statement, Peterson said he and Susanne were both now “free people” with “free minds.” It would have been perfect if things worked out for everyone involved, “but I don’t feel guilty.”

Kekich cut a far more sunken figure. The terms of the swap dictated that the kids would stay with their mothers. But now Marilyn Peterson was taking her children to her parents’ home in Illinois. His daughters living with Susanne and Peterson, ­Kekich was alone. Calling himself “one of the biggest soul searchers around,” Kekich said he would break up his family only “for love far greater than any I have ever known.” Now he was “dubious” such a love existed.

Asked if he expected to be traded, Kekich said, “I’m here. We’re still teammates. I only want to be where Fritz is.” It was “the only way I can be sure of seeing my daughters.”

This was not to be. After pitching fourteen innings for the Bombers in the ’73 season (walking fourteen batters), Kekich was dealt to the Cleveland Indians. Still a Yank, Peterson finished the season with a dismal 8-15 record and was also shipped out, to Cleveland, though by that time Kekich had already moved on, to Japan. Still, when it came to the Trade, Peterson was generally considered to be the winner. After all, he and Susanne are still married today, with children of their own. This result was predicted by Dr. Joyce Brothers, famed TV psychoanalyst. “It’s very rare that a four-way swap ever works,” Brothers said.


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