Tis the season of free agent signings and trades. The mlb.com website has been lighting up like a pinball machine. Just yesterday, its headline story changed four times in the same hour. Cano talking with Mariners followed by Cano Mariners talks stall. Rumors floating around Cano, and finally, Cano signs with Mariners-third highest paid player n MLB history.
The trades have been hearty too. I’m still digesting the Brewers sending the best bargain in baseball-Norichika Aoki to the Kanasas City Royals in exchange for Will Smith. The jokes have already launched in Milwaukee. “Yeh, we like our princes; from Fielder to Fresh.”
Ha! That’s funny but nothing compared to a trade that rocked spring training over 40 years ago. That year-1973 was a news packed year like any other I suppose. Richard Nixon was inaugurated for his second term. The Communist League was founded in Denmark. The Oakland A’s won their second of three consecutive World Series. Kiss performed their first concert.
And oh yeh, Fritz Peterson and Mike Kekich swapped wives. I first heard about this as a kid and was convinced Bill Veeck was behind it. The maverick owner had discovered my favorite player-Harold Baines as a 14-year old little leaguer in St.Michaels, Maryland.
But Veeck did more than attend wholesome little league games in Amish country. This is the guy who carved an ashtray into his wooden prosthesis leg.. Veeck’s title was as worldly as they come- general manager and owner of various minor and major league baseball teams. But it was his spirit that’s remembered.. He was a trickster, hustler, promoter, advertiser, and more than anything else, a baseball junkie.
Veeck distinguished very clearly between advertiser, promoter, and a hustler. He was all three and in order to woo baseball fans into seats, you had to not only get them there with gimmicks. You had to keep them talking about it long after the last out. Veeck is responsible for fireworks exploding from scoreboards, among many other things.
Veeck was not the son of a king. He had no money and so if scarcity is the mother of invention, Veeck wears the crown as king of the innovators, in baseball anyway.
But Veeck had nothing to do with the wife swap. I’d have to do a little research on attendance figures, but when word got out about Peterson and Kekich and their respective wives, fans came out and booed mercilessly or at least the ones not participating in the 1970’s wife swapping trend.
By spring training 1973, the moving trucks had already made it official. The trade worked out better for Fritz Peterson. He stayed married to the former Susan Kekich and the couple had four kids. Mike Kekich’s experiment didn’t go as well. It quickly ended in divorce. I’ve never been married, but it sure seems like a dice roll. What does that make wife swapping? Russian Roulette?
Peterson pitched quite a bit less in 1973 than he did in 1972. He was also a little less effective. His career began to nosedive. But , he was already 31 when the big trade went down. He later lived in Chicago where he was a blackjack dealer. That seems appropriate. He also released his first book a few years ago. It’s called “Mickey Mantle goes to Heaven.”
Kekich wasn’t very successful as a pitcher before the big trade and not much better after. He pitched his last game in the majors in 1975 and then attempted a comeback in the Mexican League. That failed too. But he does reside in Albuquerque New Mexico where he is apparently remarried. Man that has a strange ring to it. Failed in the Mexican League, but remarried. There might be a story not yet told in there.