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. He shared his wife with Peterson and he shares his April 2nd birthday with another former Yankee starting pitcher and this former Yankee outfielder.
|NYY (5 yrs)||31||32||.492||4.31||4.09||125||83||15||7||0||1||564.0||553||298||270||50||276||304||1.470|
|LAD (2 yrs)||2||11||.154||4.38||3.49||30||21||2||1||1||0||125.1||126||66||61||11||59||93||1.476|
|TEX (1 yr)||0||0||3.73||4.21||23||0||8||0||0||2||31.1||33||16||13||2||21||19||1.723|
|CLE (1 yr)||1||4||.200||7.02||5.19||16||6||4||0||0||0||50.0||73||47||39||6||35||26||2.160|
|SEA (1 yr)||5||4||.556||5.60||4.91||41||2||19||0||0||3||90.0||90||58||56||11||51||55||1.567|
Selected by Texas in the tenth round of the 1976 MLB Draft, Billy Sample had a strong rookie season for the Rangers two years later when he won the starting job in left field and averaged .292. He was pushed out of that starting position the following year and it took him three seasons to win it back and when he did in 1983, he put together his best big league season, setting career highs in just about every offensive category including a career high 44 stolen bases. He then had an off-year in ’84 and when it looked as if Texas was going to again make him a utility player, Sample let the team’s front office know he wouldn’t mind being traded.
Coincidentally, at that very same time, Toby Harrah was letting the Yankee front office know that after just one disappointing season in pinstripes, he too would not mind wearing a different uniform. So the deal was made on February 28, 1985 and the plan was to let Sample compete with Vic Mata and Henry Cotto to become the right handed portion of a left field platoon with Ken Griffey. Sample won that three-way competition and ended up appearing in 59 games for New York during the 1985 season. He averaged a quiet .288 and since he sat the bench for over 100 games, it gave him a lot of time to observe the craziness of George Steinbrenner’s mid-eighties Yankee organization up close and personal. Sample was shocked when Steinbrenner fired Yogi Berra in April of that year after publicly promising the Yankee legend he’d have a full year in that job.
This guy had always been both outspoken and well-spoken, so when New York dumped him via a trade to the Braves that December, Sample wrote an article for the New York Times documenting his feelings about the mismanagement tendencies of Steinbrenner’s organization. After one year with Atlanta, his big league playing days were over and he got into broadcasting and did a lot more writing about baseball for a variety of top-shelf publications. During his nine-year career, Sample appeared in 826 games and averaged .272 lifetime.
|TEX (7 yrs)||675||2423||2177||330||587||111||9||39||201||92||172||194||.270||.327||.383||.710|
|ATL (1 yr)||92||221||200||23||57||11||0||6||14||4||14||26||.285||.338||.430||.768|
|NYY (1 yr)||59||154||139||18||40||5||0||1||15||2||9||10||.288||.336||.345||.681|
Jon Lieber’s Yankee career was both short and sweet. After the Yankees lost the 2003 World Series to the Marlins they also lost most of their starting pitching staff. Andy Pettitte, Roger Clemens and David Wells were all lost to free agency and a fourth starter, the disappointing Jeff Weaver, was traded to the Dodgers for the guy New York thought would anchor their rotation for the next couple of seasons, Kevin Brown. That same off-season, the Yankees also traded for the Expo fireballer, Javier Vazquez and signed Cuban refugee, Jose Contreras. A year earlier, the Yankees had also signed a then 31-year-old Lieber to a free agent contract. No one paid too much attention because at the time, the Council Bluffs, Iowa native, who had won 20 games for the Cubs in 2001, was recuperating from Tommy John surgery and would miss the entire ’03 campaign.
As we now know, Brown and Contreras were both disappointing in pinstripes and after getting off to a 10-5 start and making the AL All Star Team, Vazquez was just 4-5 during the second half of the ’04 season. When another starter, Mike Mussina went into a bad spell at the same time as Vazquez, the Yankee starting pitching situation looked bleak indeed. But after starting the season 5-5, Lieber’s surgically repaired arm was finally regaining all its strength and he went 9-3 the rest of the way, including five straight wins in September. It was Lieber and a rejuvenated Orlando “El Duque” Hernandez who pitched the Yankees to the 2004 AL East Division title.
Lieber did not pitch well in his first postseason start against the Twins that year but he then came back to beat the Red Sox in Game 2 of that year’s ALCS. He also pitched well against Boston in Game 6, in a losing effort that became part of the greatest postseason collapse in Yankee franchise history. I still believe it was the shock of that collapse that so stunned New York’s front office that they let Lieber get away and sign a free agent contract with the Phillies. Instead, the Yankees got Randy Johnson, Carl Pavano and Jared Wright, three more poor pitching choices, while Lieber won 17 games for the Phillies. He lasted three more seasons, retiring in 2008 with a 131-124 career record. he shares his April 2nd birthday with this former Yankee starting pitcher and this former Yankee outfielder.
|PIT (5 yrs)||38||47||.447||4.36||3.99||151||104||10||4||0||2||682.2||750||383||331||84||158||508||1.330|
|CHC (5 yrs)||50||39||.562||4.04||3.93||147||122||7||17||3||0||874.1||912||429||392||114||159||640||1.225|
|PHI (3 yrs)||29||30||.492||4.55||4.33||76||74||1||4||2||0||464.1||510||251||235||67||87||303||1.286|
|NYY (1 yr)||14||8||.636||4.33||3.71||27||27||0||0||0||0||176.2||216||95||85||20||18||102||1.325|
When people ask me who is the best, most loyal Yankee fan I know, I answer without hesitation, Marty Tambasco. I can’t tell you how many times in my life I’ve had the pleasure of discussing Yankee baseball with Marty during the close to half-century we’ve known each other, and I am thrilled to be able to say, we continue to do so to this day. It is only fitting that a man who loves baseball and the Yankees as much as Marty does, celebrates his own birthday as each new season of our National Pastime begins anew. Have a super day Marty!