Andres Fleitas, Cuban baseball
legend dies at 95
The veteran catcher was the MVP of 1946-47 winter league season, where as a member of Almendares, he helped to guide major leaguer Max Lanier to complete a three game sweep of Havana on only one day of rest.
Prior to his professional career in Cuba, he won two Amateur World Series in 1939 and 1942 earning MVP honors in the latter victory. He joined Almendares during the 1942-43 campaign and stayed with them for almost ten seasons, battling with Mike Guerra for catching duties while also playing first base.
Fleitas entered the United States that summer, playing for the New York Giants AAA farm club in Jersey City. After playing two seasons with the Giants, he was well on the path to the major leagues before an offer of $20,000 from Jorge Pasquel lured him to Mexico for the 1945 season.
He spent three seasons with Monterrey, batting over .300 each year. While the tremendous increase in salary allowed Fleitas to purchase a home in Santa Fe, his time in Mexico effectively nixed any chance he would have playing in the majors.
Commissioner Happy Chandler banned all players for five years that left the United States for the Mexican League that did not return before his deadline. Only when Danny Gardella threatened to sue Major League Baseball, did the owners relent and lift the ban. For Fleitas, who was 33 at the time the ban was lifted, was well past prospect status.
He continued to play at the AA and AAA levels through 1954, finishing up his career with Cienfuegos during the 1954-55 Cuban Winter League season. He was elected to the Cuban Baseball Hall of Fame in 1971.
Baseball was a family affair for Fleitas. His brother, Angel, was an infielder for the Washington Senators in 1948. Ironically it was the first of two seasons which they played together in the United States, serving as teammates on the Chattanooga Lookouts from 1948-49.