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Ex-Yankees pitcher Fritz Peterson, who traded families with teammate, dead at 82

Fritz Peterson

Fritz Peterson, a former 20-game winner for the New York Yankees who famously swapped families with teammate Mike Kekich in 1973, has died. He was 82.

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The team and Northern Illinois University, where Peterson starred before his major league career, announced his death on Friday. No cause of death was given, nor did either say when or where he died, The New York Times reported. Former teammate Ron Blomberg wrote in a Facebook post that he had heard about Peterson’s death “several weeks ago” but did not believe it until Saturday.

Peterson had overcome prostate cancer and revealed in 2018 that he had Alzheimer’s disease, according to CBS Sports.

In a statement, the Yankees said that Peterson would be “greatly missed.”

“The Yankees are deeply saddened to learn of the passing of Fritz Peterson, who was a formidable pitcher and affable presence throughout his nine years in pinstripes,” the team said in a statement. “Along with longtime teammate Mel Stottlemyre, Peterson was part of a devastating one-two combination at the top of the Yankees’ rotation.

“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 -- most notably his impeccable control, which was among the best in the Majors.

Peterson went 133-131 during his 11-year major-league career, according to Baseball-Reference.com. The left-hander spent nine seasons in New York (1966-1974) and was an all-star in 1970, when he fashioned a 20-11 record and a 2.90 ERA.

He retired with the lowest all-time ERA (2.52) at the original Yankee Stadium.

He was traded twice during his career, pitching for Cleveland (1974-76) and Texas (1976). But his biggest swap came off the field in 1973, when he and Kekich announced during spring training that they had traded wives and families, ESPN reported.

Susanne Kekich later married Peterson in 1974, and the couple was in their 50th year of marriage at the time of his death. The relationship between Mike Kekich and Marilyn Peterson did not work out, according to the sports news outlet.

Author and former Yankees executive Marty Appel wrote in his book “Pinstripe Empire” that the trade was “more of a life swap’' exchanging wives and homes, the Bergen Record reported.

Peterson worked as a hockey broadcaster for the New York Raiders of the World Hockey Association, according to the Times. He also was a blackjack dealer in his native Illinois, CBS Sports reported. He also did color commentary for Northern Illinois men’s basketball games, the school wrote in a news release.

He pitched at Northern Illinois in 1962 and 1963, leading the team in strikeouts during his first season, the school said. As a senior he went 8-2 with a 2.45 ERA and was named the team’s MVP. He signed with the Yankees as a free agent in 1963.

He was inducted into the Northern Illinois Athletics Hall of Fame in 1987, according to ESPN. His jersey was retired by the school in 2018.

“Fritz always told me when he died no one would know about it and he was going to do something crazy to me,” Bloomberg wrote. “I guess I now believe it. I will reflect more on this at a later time when I have my thoughts together but for now rest easy my friend. Bloomie loves you and will miss you dearly. You are a brother to me.”

Peterson, who with teammate Jim Bouton once put talcum powder in the hair dryer of toupee-wearing teammate Joe Pepitone as a joke, published a memoir,” “Mickey Mantle Is Going to Heaven,” in 2009, the Times reported.

Peterson also wrote “The Art of De-Conditioning: Eating Your Way to Heaven,” a satire of diet and exercise regimens; and “When the Yankees Were on the ‘Fritz’: Revisiting the ‘Horace Clarke Era,’” according to the newspaper.

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