May 29, 2024
Fritz Peterson was an All-Star with New York in 1970, but he was gained notoriety when he and fellow pitcher Mike Kekich traded families in 1973.

Associated Press

NEW YORK — Fritz Peterson, the New York Yankees pitcher who famously swapped wives and families with teammate Mike Kekich in 1973, has died. He was 81.

Peterson died of lung cancer at his home in Winona, Minnesota, on Oct. 19, according to death records from the Winona County Vital Records Department. His body was cremated.

News of his death began to emerge Friday with an announcement by Northern Illinois, his alma mater, which erroneously said he was 82.

Peterson disclosed in a Facebook post in July 2018 that he had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease several months earlier. He told The New York Times in 2009 that he had prostate cancer twice.

A left-hander who pitched in the major leagues from 1966-76, Peterson was a mainstay of the Yankees’ down years in the late 1960s and early 1970s. He went 133-131 with a 3.30 ERA, earning his only All-Star selection in 1970 when he was 20-11.

“A formidable pitcher and affable presence throughout his nine years in pinstripes,” the Yankees said in a statement. “A known prankster and well-liked among his teammates and coaches, Peterson had an outgoing personality and inquisitive nature that brought lightheartedness to the clubhouse on a regular basis and belied his prowess on the mound.”

His notoriety stemmed from the announcement during spring training in 1973 that he and Kekich were swapping wives. The exchange sparked a New York Daily News front-page headline: “2 Yank Pitchers Trade Wives.” with the subhead: “Peterson, Kekich hurl Change-Ups.”

Peterson had made his major league debut with the Yankees in 1966 and Kekich was acquired in a trade from the Los Angeles Dodgers before the 1969 season. The teammates became friends and said that by 1972, Peterson had fallen in love with Kekich’s wife, Susanne, and Kekich fell in love with Peterson’s wife, Marilyn.

The Kekich daughters, 5-year-old Kristen and 2-year-old Reagan, moved with their mother to the Peterson house; the Peterson sons, 5-year-old Gregg and 2-year-old Eric, moved to the Kekich home with their mother, Marilyn. While Peterson and Susanne married in 1974, Kekich and Marilyn broke up.

“Unless people know the full details, it could turn out to be a nasty type thing. Don’t say this was wife-swapping, because it wasn’t,” Kekich told the Daily News at the time. “We didn’t swap wives, we swapped lives.”

Kekich was traded to Cleveland that June and Peterson was dealt to Cleveland in April 1974 for a package of players that included Chris Chambliss, who hit New York’s pennant-winning homer in 1976 and helped the Yankees win World Series titles in 1977 and ’78.

Fred Joseph Robert Peterson, the name listed on the death certificate, was born Feb. 8, 1942 in Chicago. His father also was named Fred Joseph Robert Peterson and his mother was the former Annette Ingels.

The future pitcher attended Arlington High School in Arlington Heights and then Northern Illinois before signing with the Yankees in 1963. Peterson received a bachelor’s degree from Northern Illinois in 1965 and a master’s degree in 1967.

Peterson made his big league debut at Baltimore on April 15, 1966, giving up a single to his first batter, Luis Aparacio, and a first-inning RBI single to Brooks Robinson, both future Hall of Famers. Peterson pitched a six-hit complete game for the win, giving up a one-out solo homer in the ninth to future Hall of Famer Frank Robinson before retiring Brooks Robinson on a flyout and Boog Powell on a groundout.

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Peterson became the Yankees’ No. 2 starter behind Mel Stottlemyre and went 109-106 with a 3.10 ERA in nine seasons.

He was Cleveland’s starting pitcher on June 4, 1975, the notorious 10-cent beer night promotion that ended in a forfeit in favor of Texas when fans rioted in the ninth inning and attacked Rangers outfielder Jeff Burroughs and umpires. Peterson was traded to the Rangers in 1976 but his season was cut short by a shoulder injury. He signed with the Chicago White Sox for 1977 but announced his retirement in May following a second shoulder operation.

After his playing career, Peterson held jobs that included casino dealer and color commentator for Northern Illinois basketball.

He wrote three books: “Mickey Mantle Is Going to Heaven” (2009), “The Art of De-Conditioning: Eating Your Way to Heaven” (2012) and “When the Yankees Were on the Fritz: Revisiting the ‘Horace Clarke Era.”’

He is survived by his wife, whose name is spelled as the former Anna Suzanne Tobias on death records.

Associated Press investigative researcher Randy Herschaft contributed to this report.

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