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|
In 1970, I remember giving a trio of young Yankee pitchers the nickname “The Three K’s.” They were Steve Kline, Mike Kekich and Ron Klimkowski. Klimkowski was a Jersey City native who was born on March 1, 1944. He grew up a passionate Yankee fan but was signed by the Red Sox out of college. He realized his boyhood dream of becoming a Yankee when he was sent to New York as part of the 1967 trade that sent Ellie Howard to Beantown. After a brief call-up to the Bronx in 1969, the right hander became a permanent part of the Yankee staff the following season. Pitching mainly out of the bullpen with an occasional start, he won 6 of 13 decisions including a complete-game three hit shutout of Detroit and posted a 2.68 ERA in 98 innings of work.
Both Kline and Kekich were first-year starters on that same staff and both matched Klimkowski’s total of six wins. I considered Kline the most talented of the three. He won 28 games in pinstripes over the next two seasons with an ERA well under three runs per game, but pitched too many innings in the process. His arm and career faded quickly and he was out of the big leagues by 1975. Kekich also became a two-time double digit winner for New York, winning ten games in both 1971 and ’72. That’s when he swapped wives with teammate Fritz Peterson, pretty much ruining his career in the process.
After the 1970 season, New York sent Klimkowski to Oakland in their trade for Felipe Alou. The A’s released him after his 2-2, 2-save performance in 1971 and he rejoined the Yankees. When he could not recover from a 1973 spring-training knee injury, he was forced to retire. Klimkowski died in November of 2009 of heart failure at the young age of 55, after seeing his beloved Yankees win their 27th World Series.
Some Klimkowski uniform trivia: Klimkowski was assigned uniform number 51 during his 1969 rookie season. In 1970, he was given number 24. He then got traded to Oakland for Felipe Alou who also wore number 24 for the Yankees. When the A’s released Klimkowski and the Yankees re-signed him for a spell, he wore uniform number 22.
In the last three days, we’ve had two Pinstripe Birthday Celebrants who were born in Jersey City (Klimkowski & Willie Banks). Over the years, more Yankees have lived in New Jersey than any other state, especially during baseball season. Oddly, there have not been that many Bronx Bombers born in the Garden State. Here’s my top five list of Jersey-born Yankees:
1. Derek Jeter – Pequannock
2. Billy Johnson – Montclair
3. Jim Bouton – Newark
4. Rick Cerone – Newark
5. Elliott Maddox – East Orange
|NYY (3 yrs)||6||10||.375||2.76||64||6||15||1||1||2||143.2||118||52||44||10||53||54||1.190|
|OAK (1 yr)||2||2||.500||3.38||26||0||11||0||0||2||45.1||37||19||17||3||23||25||1.324|