Saturday, April 13, 2024

Yankees Mourn Passing Of Fritz Peterson



Fritz Peterson, who pitched for the Yankees in the late 1960s and into the George Steinbrenner era, passed away on Friday at the age of 82. 

Peterson won 109 games in his nine seasons in pinstripes, from 1966 to 1974, with an All-Star appearance in 1970, when he was a 20-game winner. He also pitched for the Cleveland Indians and Texas Rangers.

The Yankees released the following statement on Friday evening: "The Yankees are deeply saddened to learn of the passing of Fritz Peterson, who was a formidable pitcher and affable presence throughout his nine years in pinstripes. Along with longtime teammate Mel Stottlemyre, Peterson was part of a devastating one-two combination at the top of the Yankees' rotation. A known prankster and well-liked among his teammates and coaches, Peterson had an outgoing personality and inquisitive nature that brought lightheartedness to the clubhouse on a regular basis and belied his prowess on the mound - most notably his impeccable control, which was among the best in the Majors. Peterson will be greatly missed by the Yankees, and we offer our heartfelt condolences to his wife, Susanne, and the entire Peterson family."

A fixture on social media in recent years, he posted often on his memories of being a Yankee and how the current club was doing. At that time, he also took in games at The Stadium with the Bleacher Creatures. 

In recent years, Peterson's health took a turn for the worse, as he revealed to the New York Post's Kevin Kernan in 2018 that he was suffering from Alzheimer's disease. He overcame prostate cancer years before that.

Peterson joined the Yankees in 1966 and he won 12 games as a rookie, with a superb 3.31 ERA (Earned run average). After he went 8-14, with his ERA ticking up to 3.47 in 1967, in a year in which the Yankees went 72-90-1, he bounced back to go 12-11 in '68, the same record he had as a rookie, while shaving nearly a run off his ERA, down to 2.63.

1969 was when Peterson began to take it to another level, as he went 17-16 (33 decisions, unheard of now), with a  2.55 ERA, 16 complete games (also unheard of in this era), 272 innings pitched, allowed just 95 runs (77 earned) on 228 hits and 43 walks, with 150 strikeouts.

Peterson was an All-Star in 1970, as he became a 20-game winner for the only time in his career. He went 20-11 with a  2.90 ERA, eight complete games, 260.1 innings pitched, 102 runs (84 earned) on 247 hits and 40 walks, with 127 K's.

The next two seasons, Peterson went 15-13 with a 3.05 ERA in 1971 and 17-15 in '72 before what he would become known for off the field became revealed.

In spring training of 1973, it was revealed that Peterson and fellow pitcher Mike Kekich swapped wives and families. Peterson would marry Susanne Kekich in 1974, while Kekich and Marilyn Peterson did not last long. 

That '73 season became a tough one on the field for Peterson, as he went 8-15 and saw his ERA jump to a career-high 3.95. Peterson was then traded early in the 1974 season - after making just three appearances, including one start, for the Yankees - to the Cleveland Indians.  He went 9-14 with a 4.36 ERA with Cleveland in 29 starts the rest of that season before having a bounce back year in 1975, when he went 14-8 with a 3.94 ERA. 1976 would be his final season, as he made nine starts with Cleveland, going 0-3 with a 5.55 ERA before a trade to the Texas Rangers, where he appeared in four games, two of which were starts, and was 1-0 with a 3.60 ERA, to finish his career.

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