There’s a fascinating read by Mark Jacobson in the latest New York magazine about two Yankees pitchers who traded families in 1972.The story contains psychological, sexual, cultural, and even religious elements. Ben Affleck and Matt Damon apparently see this as a thematic perfect storm, and are developing a movie about the swap.
The plot is decidedly bizarre.
In 1972, left-handers Fritz Peterson and Mike Kekich and their wives Marilyn and Suzanne, respectively, had grown exceptionally close. Eventually, they concluded that they were married to the wrong people, and promptly swapped partners.
The swap wasn’t limited to wives either. The children and the pets were traded as well. “We didn’t swap wives, we swapped lives,” said Kekich at the time.
Sadly, the four-way swap didn’t work out for everyone. Fritz and his wife Suzanne thrived in their new situation. But when Kekich and Marilyn’s relationship failed, Marilyn moved to Illinois and took the kids. This left Kekich alone, with his former kids being raised by his old friend Fritz.
Check out the New York mag piece for the finer details if you have some time on your hands.
One of the big takeaways of the piece is just how dramatically the sports-media landscape has changed in the last 40 years.
It’s nearly impossible to imagine the same thing happening today.
In an era when athletes are celebrities and “brands”, their behaviours are closely regulated. The sports media feeds off athletes violating social norms. And we are always watching.
For better or worse, this keeps athletes in line with what is “normal”.
The scrutiny and backlash would be immediate and heavy if the Yankees’ swap happened today. The two pitchers would simply never think about doing it.
But the early-70s were much different.
One of the incredible parts of this story is the extent to which Peterson and Kekich just went on with their lives. The trade prompted a scandal, but the nature of the sports media landscape was such that it didn’t have the legs it would have today.
Combine that media landscape with the cultural uncertainly caused by the 1960s, and the “Big Trade” could have only happened in that specific moment in history.
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