Sat, Sep 19, 2009 - Page 19 News List

Ex-Yankees pitcher Fritz Peterson casts a few stones

NY TIMES NEW SERVICE , NEW YORK

On a cool late-season evening before a Yankees game earlier this week, across the street from the old and abandoned stadium, Fritz Peterson sat behind a table on a sidewalk filled with passing fans and flattened cigarette butts.

Peterson, a former Yankees pitcher, was signing copies of his new book, Mickey Mantle is Going to Heaven. Eventually, Peterson says, he plans to meet Mantle there and talk about old times.

At age 67, Peterson is fighting prostate cancer for a second time. He is intensely religious, and blunt about his predicament. His humor is macabre.

For instance, he said he wanted to return to New York during next month’s playoffs to sign copies from a casket.

“Wouldn’t that be fun?” Peterson said. “If I were to die now, I’d be a very happy camper.”

Peterson, a left-hander, pitched from 1966 through 1976, most of it with the Yankees, and went 133-131. His presence in New York served as an unusual counterpoint to the fanfare that Derek Jeter created last week as he passed Lou Gehrig’s record for most base hits by a Yankee. Gehrig and Jeter are about Yankee tradition and championships.

Peterson? He never got to the postseason with the Yankees and played before a lot of empty seats.

“Mediocre at best,” Peterson said of those Yankee teams that followed the Mantle-Maris era. “Pathetic at worst.”

But Peterson is best known for one of baseball’s strangest trades. In 1973, Peterson and Mike Kekich, also a left-handed Yankees pitcher at the time, revealed in spring training that they had exchanged families, like something out of a John Updike novel. Peterson moved in with Kekich’s wife; Kekich moved in with Peterson’s wife. Although Marilyn Peterson did not stay with Kekich very long, Fritz married Susanne Kekich.

Yankees fans might be taken aback by some of Peterson’s judgments of others. He is an evangelical Christian who used to work with the Baseball Chapel, a man not without sin who is casting a few stones.

Peterson is also not a fan of Joe DiMaggio, describing him as arrogant and stubborn. Curiously, a photograph in the middle of the book shows a young Peterson standing next to DiMaggio. It was taken on Old-Timers’ Day in 1967.

When asked whether he feared his book would burn bridges with the franchise’s former players, Peterson replied: “You know, I am. But if they get mad at me, that’s OK. I hope they get serious with the Lord.”

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