April 2 – Happy Birthday Mike Kekich
Today’s Pinstripe Birthday celebrant is best known for his involvement in one of the most publicized deals in both Yankee and Major League Baseball history. The trade did not take place between two ball clubs and did not require anyone to switch uniforms. Instead, after a dinner party one evening at the home of New York Post sportswriter, Maury Allen, Yankee pitchers Mike Kekich and Fritz Peterson agreed to trade families. Kekich’s wife and two daughters would move in with Peterson and Fritzie’s wife and two sons would live with Kekich. As it turned out, Kekich got the short end of that deal.
The left handed fire-baller was once considered the next Sandy Koufak, when the Dodgers drafted him in 1964. He got a chance to pitch with the great one the following season, when LA brought him up for a look-see as a 20-year-old, just before the All Star break. Kekich’s problem on the mound was control. He walked almost as many as he struck out. The Dodgers used him as a starter in 1968 and when he finished that year with a 2-10 record, he was traded to the Yankees for outfielder Andy Kosco. The only thing I remember about that transaction was that it officially converted my big brother Jerry into an ex-Yankee fan for life because for some reason, Andy Kosco was his favorite player.
Over the next four seasons, Kekich evolved into a decent starter for some pretty mediocre Yankee teams. In fact, by 1971, the Yankees had put together a five-man rotation that looked as if it could help get the Yankees back into the pennant picture for seasons to come. In addition to Kekich and Peterson, it included ace Mel Stottlemyre, Stan Bahnsen and Steve Kline, all of whom were younger than 30 and each of whom won in double figures during that ’71 season. Instead, the Yankees proceeded to inexplicably trade Bahnsen for some guy named Rich McKinney and then Peterson and Kekich made that infamous trade of their own.
The family swap worked out for Fritz and Susanne Kekich. The two are still married today. Marilyn Peterson and her two boys left Kekich days after the exchange took place and the pitcher’s personal life and baseball career were pretty much turned upside down. After starting the 1973 season as a Yankee, Kekich was traded to Cleveland for a pitcher named Lowell Palmer. He lasted just one season with the Indians and then started pitching on any team and in any country that would have him. During that period of his life Kekich almost died when he ruptured his spleen trying to break up a player brawl in a Venezuelan league game and almost died again when his motorcycle struck a police car in California. By 1980 he was playing baseball in Mexico by day and enrolled in a course to become a medical doctor, at night. That didn’t work for him either.
Eventually, Kekich did remarry and now lives in New Mexico. He was born in San Diego on this date in 1945. That’s him sitting in the foreground in the above photo next to his first wife, Susan, with Fritz and Marilyn Peterson sitting behind them. He shared his wife with Peterson and he shares his April 2nd birthday with another former Yankee starting pitcher and this former Yankee outfielder.