By Fernando Espino, CHC Student Assistant
The pride of Havana – that’s how Cubans refer to baseball, their popularly adopted national sport. No Cuban childhood is complete without long, hot afternoons spent with a bat and a glove in hand. Before the Revolution, the Cuban League was one of the oldest, most popular professional baseball leagues outside the United States. It was a hotbed of recruiting for Major League Baseball teams and gave local Cuban peloteros a chance to show off their stuff.
Among those peloteros was Andrés Fleitas (1918-2011), a legend of the Cuban Winter Leagues whose career took him from his native Havana to the United States, Mexico, and beyond. Like many Cuban boys, Fleitas was playing baseball since he was old enough to hold a bat. He played many positions throughout his career, but as he put it, he always loved hitting more than anything else. Fleitas got his start in local amateur leagues in 1939, before moving on to play for the Almendares Blues, a Cuban Professional League team based in Havana with an intense rivalry with their neighbors, El Club Havana.
Andrés Fleitas played in the minors of the MLB with the Jersey City Giants, affiliated with the New York Giants, who would later move to San Francisco. He also played for the Monterrey Industriales of the Mexican League, the Chattanooga Lookouts of the Southern Association, and the Havana Sugar Kings of the International League, gaining a reputation as an eager and versatile player. His greatest triumph came in the 1946-1947 season of the Cuban Winter League, where he held a .399 batting average with 37 runs and 43 RBI, and hit the game-winning triple in the finals against their heated rivals Habana. He was named league MVP at the end of the season.
Fleitas played professional baseball from 1942 until 1955. He remembered playing with such legendary Cuban stars as Agapito Mayor, Roberto Ortiz, and Minnie Miñoso. Most of all, he recalled an island full of loyal, passionate fans whose intense love of their team was matched only by their love for the game. As a legend in his own right, Fleitas was inducted to the Cuban Baseball Hall of Fame in 1971. Sadly, Fleitas passed away in his Miami home in December of 2011 at the age of 95. As one of the last remaining links to Cuba’s pre-Revolution baseball legacy, his story is an invaluable one to anyone interested in the game’s great saga in Cuba.
- Andrés Fleitas was interviewed as part of the Luis J. Botifoll Oral History Project in Miami, FL on June 29, 2011. To learn more, watch Mr. Fleitas tell his life story.
- More from the Luis J. Botifoll Oral History Project »