Former Yankees left-hander and All-Star Fritz Peterson was so looking forward to coming back to Yankee Stadium in June for Old-Timers’ Day. Unfortunately, that will not be happening.
Peterson, 76, who overcame prostate cancer years ago, is fighting a new health battle.
“I’ve been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s,’’ he revealed to The Post in a phone interview. “I really wanted to be there for the fans, I was there like seven years ago, but I just can’t make it. It’s the saddest thing. I wanted to go and I can’t do it. I just wanted to let the fans know that.”
These are difficult days.
Peterson is well known for his off-the-field story. In 1973, it was announced in spring training that he and fellow Yankees pitcher Mike Kekich had traded wives and families. Peterson has been with Susanne Kekich ever since. “It’s a love story,’’ he said of their relationship.
“I was diagnosed last September, but when I say that I don’t even know what year that was,’’ Peterson said. “It’s been happening like that for me all year. So it’s confusing. It’s a wacky disease. It’s something so different. I don’t want to look into what comes next because I just want to enjoy every day.’’
Anyone who followed Peterson on Facebook knew that his recall for baseball historical detail was off the charts. However, Peterson has not posted anything in three months and said he just cannot remember those details anymore.
He said the worst thing right now is: “My freedom. I can’t go places. Unless something comes medically that can give me my mobility back. Right now I am just laying in bed. I’m tired. I’m always in bed now.
“I can’t drive so I’m depending on my wonderful wife,’’ he said. “Whenever I get up I have to ask my wife, ‘What do we have today?’ As far as which doctors appointment. And when we do go somewhere, I have trouble walking so I use a cane now. I feel like the old man from ‘Scrooge.’’’
Peterson said he has some friends from baseball fantasy camps who are looking into starting a Go Fund Me page for him in this time of need. Peterson lives in Iowa and is working with doctors at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota.
“Oh my goodness, they have been terrific,’’ Peterson said. “I have a really good medical team. That’s why I feel more confident than I probably should. Medicine has done so much for so many things. I had prostate cancer so long ago I don’t consider it anymore.’’
As for his career, in a moment of clarity, he said, “I always came in No. 2 Like Hertz and Avis, it was [Mel] Stottlemyre and me.’’
Peterson pitched for the Yankees from 1966-73 and won 109 games with a 3.30 ERA and holds the lowest ERA at the old Yankee Stadium (2.52). He was traded to the Indians on April 26, 1974, part of the deal that brought Chris Chambliss and Dick Tidrow to The Bronx. Over those nine seasons in The Bronx, Peterson walked only 332 batters while striking out 893.
Peterson has written several books, including “Mickey Mantle is Going to Heaven.”
“I can’t type anymore,’’ he said. “My typing is gone. I’m hanging on for my family — that’s the most important thing. If it weren’t for that I wouldn’t care. Heaven is not a bad place to be. I think we are all saved and that we all are going to end up in heaven.’’
He still has his tremendous sense of humor, and if a subject comes up that he doesn’t want to talk about with friends, he says he just says, “Alzheimer’s’’ and leaves it at that.
“It’s sad,’’ he said of his health situation, “but what can you do?’’
Fritz Peterson will keep fighting.
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