Wednesday, May 12, 2021

How and Why Two Yankee Pitchers Once Swapped Wives

They were all really close—maybe a bit too much in the end.
by Rich Watson

Fritz Peterson and Mike Kekich were Yankee pitchers in the late sixties and early seventies. The former had his best year in 1970, when he went 20-11 with a 2.90 earned run average. The latter was less distinguished; he had back-to-back ten-win seasons in 1971-72, with his lowest ERA, 3.70, in 1972.

They, along with their respective wives, Marilyn Peterson and Susanne Kekich, were close friends. In 1972, they went to a party, and afterwards, they acted upon an idea they had only discussed in jest: they traded spouses and went home together, Marilyn with Mike and Susanne with Fritz.

They liked it enough to do it more often. Eventually they moved in with each other and made the swaps permanent. They swapped each other’s children and even their dogs. All four spouses thought the whole thing perfectly natural.

Then Major League Baseball found out.

Wife swapping as a cultural phenomenon 

The formal terminology for the practice is polyandry, and it has a long history within human culture. In the seventies, on the heels of the sexual revolution, it became a thing among hip couples. The 1969 movie Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice popularized the idea of wife swapping. (Pre-pandemic, it was turned into an off-Broadway musical.)

“Key parties,” in which car keys were put in a bowl and a random draw determined who went home with whom, were rumored to have sprung up, but it’s possible that may have been nothing more than an urban myth

The idea persists, however. Articles and books have been written about seventies wife swapping. A recent dramatic TV series explored the subject.

The backlash from MLB

When news of the Petersons and Kekiches’ unorthodox trade leaked in March 1973 during spring training, the media made it a huge scandal. According to the book Big Hair and Plastic Grass by Dan Epstein, an account of seventies baseball from a cultural perspective, the outrage from within and without baseball was severe:
...“I deplore what happened and am appalled at its effect on young people,” thundered the commissioner [Bowie Kuhn], apparently under the misguided impression that the Peterson-Kekich domestic swap had triggered a massive wave of licentious behavior among teens everywhere. “It’s a most regrettable situation that does no good for sports in general.” Religious groups and other self-appointed guardians of the public morality threatened to boycott the team. Meanwhile, Yankees general manager Lee MacPhail attempted to find some humor in the situation. “We may have to call off Family Day,” he sniggered.
Susanne Kekich defended the quartet to the media, according to the same book:
“A lot of people get divorces,” she insisted. “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.”


The consequences 

Mike and Marilyn tried to stay together, but they fell out of love with each other not long after the news broke. Regrettably, by that time it was too late: Fritz and Susanne remained in love and wanted to stay together. 

The situation had an adverse effect on Kekich’s pitching. In five appearances with the Yankees in 1973, he went 1-1 with a 9.20 ERA. In June he was traded to Cleveland.

Peterson, meanwhile, remained with the Yankees for the rest of the season, but he, too, was rattled by the backlash and the loss of his friend. He finished with his first losing record in six seasons, 8-15, with his highest ERA to that point, 3.95. The next year he was also dealt to the Indians, though by that time Kekich had already left the team.

Peterson and Kekich in the years since

Peterson retired from baseball in 1977. He fought cancer twice and won, though now he is dealing with Alzheimer’s Disease. He has found religion and has written books about the Yankees.

He and Susanne remain happily married, according to a 2017 interview with The Palm Beach Post:
“I could not be happier with anybody in the world. ‘Mama’ and I go out and party every night,” he said. “We’re still on the honeymoon, and it has been a real blessing.”
He regrets how things turned out for his friend and his former wife:
“That’s the only thing I feel bad for, that [Mike and Marilyn] didn’t work out because we all figured it could all work out,” Peterson said.... [Mike and I] just went our own ways,” he said. “I don’t have anything against him and I don’t think he has anything against me.”
Kekich also retired in 1977. His career included a season in Japan and he also played in Mexico during a comeback attempt. After he and Marilyn broke up, he remarried. He has been more hesitant to discuss the swap in the years since. A New York magazine article from 2011 said Kekich had stated in a separate interview his career went into “a black hole” after the swap.

Hollywood wanted to adapt the Peterson-Kekich story

In 2010, the rumor began that Oscar-winning actor-screenwriters Ben Affleck and Matt Damon wanted to turn the Peterson-Kekich story into a movie called “The Trade.” A director was announced in 2014, and Ben’s brother Casey signed on to rewrite the screenplay. 

Peterson was brought in as a consultant, but according to the New York Post (it was from Page Six, so take this with a grain of salt), Kekich allegedly fled from his home in Albuquerque, New Mexico and assumed a new identity. A movie no longer seems likely at this point.

The story has a mixed outcome, but as Kekich said at the time, the swap was never meant to be sordid or cheap:
“The only way I could justify giving up my daughters was for a love far greater than I had ever known. By American standards, we both had good marriages... but we were striving for something greater.”



Do you remember when this story broke?


  1. I read about this story around 20 years ago. I had never heard of this subject matter before and I haven't since. It was really strange that the two men traded FAMILIES (instead of just the wives). When did you first know about this story?

  2. Read about it in the Epstein book mentioned in the post, about a decade ago. Surprised me too. If this had happened today it would still be controversial, but I think there’d be more support for the foursome.

  3. One of the "baseball" movies that I have seen is THE STRATTON STORY with JIMMY STEWART as MONTY STRATTON. The main part that I remember is the story of his marriage to ETHEL(JUNE ALLYSON). I really like Jimmy and June. June was married to actor/director DICK POWELL. Have you seen Jimmy and/or June in very many movies?

  4. I’ve read about June Allyson. I know she was popular during the war, but I don’t recall seeing anything of hers. Seen lots of Stewart films but not THE STRATTON STORY. I’ll add it to the list.

  5. JIMMY STEWART and JUNE ALLYSON did three movies together. THE STRATTON STORY was the first one. The other two were THE GLENN MILLER STORY and STRATEGIC AIR COMMAND. Unsurprisingly, one of the TV shows that June did later in her career was an episode of MURDER, SHE WROTE.

  6. Everybody did MURDER SHE WROTE sooner or later!