Hi all. Here’s how I see baseball on this Tuesday, May 8.
As a boy, I often heard a record of Tennessee Ernie Ford singing hymns. One of the lyrics was “Precious memories, how they linger, how they ever flood my soul.” Some 45 years after hearing that song, I find baseball pitchers who were household names struggling to retain those precious memories. Jim Bouton was the first I wrote about. Before that, I knew Tom Seaver, the Mets’ own Tom Terrific was troubled by memory issues. Within the last couple of months, Bud Harrelson went public and mentioned that the same issue is now part of his life. And I found out just two days ago, a name every Yankee fan knew was being talked about on the radio. Fritz Peterson’s wife let it be known that she is doing all she can to help her husband who now has Alzheimer’s disease.
While Fritz Peterson, (whose given name is Fred Ingels Peterson was no Whitey Ford, he was a fine pitcher. On some pretty bad teams, he won 10 or more games during 5 consecutive years.
He was in fast company as early as high school. A teammate of his at Arlington High School in Illinois was Paul Splittorf who would be a Yankee nemesis while pitching for the Royals. Like Ferguson Jenkins, Peterson was considered a hot hockey prospect and had to search his soul to choose baseball. There was no draft then, so the perennial champions, the Yankees drew him into the fold. While in the minors at Columbus, Georgia (which was a AA Yankees team then) he was teammates with Stan Bahnsen and Roy White, both of whom would later make their names as Yankees. White in fact lasted beyond 1980 in the Bronx.
The Yankees did their impression of the stock market by crashing in 1965. Of all the terrible years to break into the majors, Peterson joined the hapless Yankees in 1966, their first season in the cellar of what was then a 10-team one-division American League. In spite of this, his debut was one of their 70 wins-a 3-2 win over the Orioles who would later win the World Series in a 4-game sweep. With a career ERA of 3.30, he had a 133-131 record. He won 12 games as a rookie in 1966, then a dozen in 1968 and 17 in 1969. He was an All-Star in 1970. He won 20 games that year, besides pitching in the 9th inning of the famous All-Star game where Pete Rose left Ray Fosse in a heap at the plate in the 12th inning. He then won 15 in 1971 and 17 in 1972. Remember, he was doing this for the Horace Clarke Yankees before George Steinbrenner bought the team off CBS and started getting real players.
In spite of all the good pitching and winning he did with the Yankees, the item that jumps into the minds of fans of that era is the wife swap that Peterson and Mike Kekich engineered. This wasn’t a wife swap for just one night, this was the big one, for keeps. At least, In Peterson’s case, it was for keeps, as the former Susanne Kekich has been Mrs. Peterson ever since the swap. Marilyn Peterson didn’t last long with Kekich. Both pitchers were unloaded by the Yankees shortly after word of the wife swap put the team in the gossip columns where Steinbrenner didn’t want it at the time. Kekich was gone by June of 1973 and Peterson departed the following year. Chris Chamblis and Dick Tidro came to the Yankees in the Peterson deal. His last good season was 1975 where he won 14 against 9 losses for Frank Robinson’s Cleveland Indians. Arm trouble dogged his footsteps and ended his career by 1977.
Peterson has dealt blackjack and written 3 books since the cheering stopped. I regret that none of them are available in an audible format, especially since writer Maury Allen claims Peterson’s first book is funnier than Bouton’s “Ball Four.” Allen ought to know-he has written several books about the Yankees himself. Now, after twice stopping prostate cancer, Peterson is facing a struggle that has caused problems for Bouton, Seaver and Harrelson. Peterson’s wife says her husband’s health is too bad for him to attend events in the near future which he had wanted to attend such as the upcoming Yankee Old Timers’ Day in June. This was first mentioned in the New York Post last month, but I heard of it while listening to a Yankee broadcast in the recent Indians series. Peterson’s troubles date back to last September, but according to him if he says “Last September” to you he can’t say what year that was. Like many readers of this blog and like millions nationwide, we know where he is coming from. Somebody we know, or in the past somebody we lost had Alzheimer’s or some other form of dementia. Broadcaster Tim Ryan lost his first wife Lee to this cruel disease in 2002 after a battle which lasted more than a decade. Peterson is losing the kind of details I have laid out in this forum, the kind of details in my own life which may one day belong to the public in book form. His is a life of interrupted thoughts and disconnected sentences, a life where the Facebook posts he was known for have stopped coming. The rest of the details laid bare by the “New York Post” are too painful for me to repeat. All any of us can do is pray for Peterson, Bouton, Seaver, Bud Harrelson and also Ed Kranepool who battles complications of diabetes.
There were a handful of games yesterday. The highlight of the night was George Springer getting 6, count ’em 6 hits for the Astros against the Oakland A’s. He may be looking into real estate in the Bay Area as I write this. He didn’t hit for the cycle, but he notched 4 singles, a double and a 3-run home run in the second inning as the Astros demolished the Athletics 16–2. He added nearly 30 points to his batting average in a single night, something you can only do when you have limited atbats. Only one Astro had 6 hits in a game. He was Hall of Famer Joe Morgan (or Little Joey as the Astros’ radio men called him then.) it took Little Joey a dozen innings to collect his 6 hits, a feat Springer did in 9. It was a night of demolitions-the Phillies wiped out the Giants 11-0 and the Cubs gaffed the Marlins 14–2.