We're four days away from Opening Day, so it's time to start previewing the season. Inspired by an old feature on The Black Table, we're going team-by-team and distributing Four Things You Don't Know about them. If you have suggested oddities on your team, send them to us at email@example.com. Today: The New York Yankees.
• 1. They've Been Involved In Some InterestingTrades. In an eerie foreshadowing of crappy reality shows on Fox, during spring training in 1973 pitchers and close buddies Mike Kekich and Fritz Peterson actually swapped families, which at the time consisted of their wives, their children (two apiece) and their pets (one dog each). The families had apparently completed the trade during the off-season in 1972 but kept it quiet until spring training. The change of scenery didn't really help either pitcher on the field; when Kekich ended his nine-year major league career in 1977, he had a 39-51 record. Peterson, who went 133-131 over 11 seasons before retiring in 1976, dropped to 8-15 in 1973. In 1972, or "pre-swap," he had been 17-13 (he was traded to the Indians during the 1973 season). In addition, Kekich and the original Mrs. Peterson broke up after a few months, and eventually got divorced from the original Mrs. Kekich. Meanwhile, Peterson divorced the original Mrs. Peterson and married the former Mrs. Kekich. They are still together. — (Thanks to Jerry Smith)
• 2. Make that 715 Career Homers For Ruth. While filming The Babe Ruth Story in 1948, actor William Bendix, who played the Babe, actually hit a home run over the right-field fence at Yankee Stadium. Although very ill, Ruth himself attended the filming of the scene at Yankee Stadium. Ruth died shortly after attending the movie premeire. Ruth wore number 3 because he was the third hitter in the lineup; in 1929, the Yankees became the first team to make numbers a permanent part of the uniform. Earle Combs led off so he wore No. 1, followed by Mark Koenig #2, Ruth, Lou Gehrig #4, Bob Meusel #5, Tony Lazzeri #6, Leo Durocher #7, Johnny Grabowsfoki #8, Benny Bengough #9, and Bill Dickey #10. While other teams began putting names on the backs of jerseys in the 1960s, the Yankees did not follow the trend. No Yankee has ever had their name on the back of a Yankee jersey in a game.
• 3. When the Apocalypse Hits, They Will Be Self-Sustainable. Pitcher Kyle Farnsworth attended Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College in Tifton, Ga. And yes, they had a baseball team. The Golden Stallions play in the National Junior College Athletic Association.
• 4. They Will Win Any Way They Can. The most famous fan interference incident in baseball does not involve Steve Bartman. It was Jeffrey Maier, then 12, who in 1996 altered the course of the ALCS when he reached over the fence seperating the right field stands at Yankee Stadium and caught a deep fly ball hit by the Yankees' Derek Jeter. The ball appeared to be heading into the glove of Baltimore outfielder Tony Tarasco, but Maier intercepted it and pulled it into the stands. It should have been ruled interference, but right field umpire Rich Garcia immediately ruled the play a home run, which tied the game 4-4. Bernie Williams hit a game-winning home run in the bottom of the eleventh inning to win it for the Yankees, who went on to win the series, four games to one, as well as the World Series against the Atlanta Braves. Today, Maier plays college ball at Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut, where he was a first-team all-NESCAC selection this past season. He is considered by some to have a good chance of getting drafted ... but not by the Orioles.
• Bonus tidbit: Jason Giambi launched "Operation Gumby" in 1999, which reaches out to children across the country to deal with the issue of bed-wetting.
(Tomorrow: The Washington Nationals)