With the Oscars coming up on Sunday, the time is just right to bring up some Yankee-related movie news. Historically speaking, the Yankees and Hollywood have had trouble coming together and making good film partners, but that may be changing within the next few years. According to a recent Rush and Molloy article in the New York Daily News, a film called The Trade is in the planning stages. The movie would look at the “life swap” (including wives and children) engineered by Yankee pitchers Mike Kekich and Fritz Peterson in 1973, and would feature Ben Affleck and Matt Damon in the lead roles. Now how great would that be?
This revelation does bring me some momentary pause, however. Affleck and Damon are well-known Red Sox fans; I hope that they would not use this vehicle as a way of embarrassing the Yankee franchise. That said, I like both as actors, particularly the multi-dimensional Damon, and have enough confidence that their sincere interest as baseball fans would make them want to deal with this controversial subject matter in a serious and respectful manner.
For those who don’t remember the details of the story, Kekich and Peterson had been close friends since becoming Yankee teammates in 1969, but each man developed an affinity for the other’s wife during the summer of 1972. In the spring of 1973, the news became public that the two pitchers had actually traded wives, along with their children and family dogs. Commissioner Bowie Kuhn reacted to the news with disgust, claiming that he was “appalled” by what Kekich and Peterson had done, but that he was also powerless to do anything about it.
The Yankees reacted more humorously to the announcement, with general manager Lee MacPhail quipping that the Yankees would have to call off “Family Day.” (They actually did decide to cancel the promotion that summer.) Yankee teammates gave Kekich and Peterson their fair share of grief, but never to the point where it caused much dissension in the clubhouse. But the trade seemed to affect the two pitchers, both of whom struggled in 1973 and were subjected to routine booing throughout the American League. Both became ex-Yankees soon after, with Kekich traded in ’73 and Peterson dealt in ’74.
In terms of marriage, the trade produced mixed results. Peterson and Susanne Kekich had four children together and remain married to this day. The relationship between Kekich and Marilyn Peterson did not last. They soon broke up, with Kekich eventually marrying for a third time. To this day, neither man enjoys saying much publicly about The Trade.
It remains to be seen how cooperative Kekich and Peterson will be with the moviemakers. The more pressing question involves Affleck and Damon. Which actor should play which pitcher? Affleck strikes me more as the Peterson type, to the point that I could see some resemblance in their dark physical features. Damon does not look like either pitcher, but he has more comedic talent than Affleck. That might make Damon more appropriate to play the wackier Kekich, who was known as one of the flakiest left-handers of the sixties and seventies.
Casting would also be needed for the roles of George Steinbrenner, who had just become Yankee owner that spring, and Commissioner Kuhn, who was less than thrilled by the Kekich-Peterson revelation that brought a circus-like quality to the Yankees’ spring training camp in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida in March of ’73. I’d love to see the portly Oliver Platt reprise his role as Steinbrenner from “The Bronx is Burning” mini-series, but could also see Alex Baldwin or even John Goodman doing a good job in the role of “The Boss.” Kuhn is a tougher call, but veteran character actors like James Cromwell, Edward Herrmann, and Donald Moffat would lead my list of candidates.
And then there’s the role of Ralph Houk, the Yankee manager that spring. Bruce McGill did a pretty good job as Houk in Billy Crystal’s 61*, but I’d be awfully tempted to offer the role to someone like the underrated Chris Cooper.
All in all, it makes for interesting speculation, and potentially a terrific movie. So who would you cast in The Trade?
Sticking with the Hollywood theme, I happened to be up late the other night (as I am most nights) and while surfing the various movie channels, stumbled upon the last half-hour of Robert Altman’s controversial remake of the Raymond Chandler novel, The Long Goodbye. During the film’s climactic scene, who should appear but former Yankee right-hander Jim Bouton, playing the role of the villain! I had known of Bouton’s involvement with the short-lived TV adaptation of Ball Four, but did not realize that he had ever played a part in a feature film. Bouton was quite good in the scene, with a bit of a Warren Beatty quality to his appearance, before ultimately being shot by detective Philip Marlowe, played memorably by Elliott Gould.
Now aware of Bouton’s appearance in the movie, I decided to look him up on IMDB to see what other films he had worked on. Other than an uncredited voice role in an obscure 1975 movie called Pick-Up, there was nothing. Perhaps Bouton missed his calling here. With his good looks and smooth presence in front of the camera, Bouton seemed like a natural for a long career in Hollywood. (Ironically, the most commercially successful actor to appear in The Long Goodbye is Arnold Schwarzenegger, who did not have a single word of dialogue in the film.)
Then again, Bouton has done well in other areas. He was one of the two minor league ballplayers who came up with the idea for Big League Chew, and has had plenty of success writing books, including the amazing and groundbreaking Ball Four. Who says you need Hollywood to make it big?
Bruce Markusen has written seven books on baseball, none of which have been made into a movie.