Monday, December 19, 2011

Cuban baseball legend, former Cuban League MVP Andres Fleitas dies at age 95

Sad news that Cuban League legend Andres Fleitas died Sunday of natural causes at age 95.

Click here for El Nuevo Herald's Spanish-language obituary.

Fleitas "was a star of the golden age of Cuban amateur baseball with Central Hershey and with Cuba in the Amateur World Series," Hall of Fame Marlins Spanish-language broadcaster Felo Ramirez told El Nuevo Herald. "Later he was a brilliant player in the professional Cuban League, where he was an excellent hitter and very clutch with runners on base."

Elected to the Cuban Baseball Hall of Fame in 1971, Fleitas was the MVP of the fabled 1946-47 season, in which Almendares swept Habana in the teams’ final three-game series to win the pennant.

Fleitas, who batted .316 that season, tripled in the winning run in seventh inning in the second game of that series as Almendares beat Habana 2-1 behind a complete-game effort by Agapito Mayor. The next day, Fleitas was behind the plate as Max Lanier beat Habana 9-2 on one-day’s rest.

In 1997, I had the honor of interviewing Fleitas, show in this 1946-47 Sensacion premium.

During that interview, he recalled the final moments of Almendares' Cuban League-pennant clinching victory, considered perhaps the greatest season finale in Cuban League history:
"Behind home plate, I had to catch either the last out or one of the last outs in the crowd [of fans that was on the field behind ropes]. It was incredible. I calculated that there were close to 40,000 fans, with the 30,000-plus that fit in the stadium and the 2,000-3,000 that were on the field."

Ramon "Paito" Herrera batted .300 or better in nine of his 18 winters in Cuba

The June 6, 1926 Carteles magazine cover depicting Cuban League star Ramon "Paito" Herrera.

Herrera, who was born on this day (Dec. 19) -- although the exact year is in question -- was elected to the Cuban Baseball Hall of Fame in 1963.

He played for Almendares, Fe, Red Sox (yes, there was once a Cuban League team with that name), Habana and Marianao between 1913-30.

Herrera batted .300 or better during nine of his 18 winters in Cuba.

In the majors -- two seasons for the Boston Red Sox -- Herrera was known as "Mike."

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Hank Thompson led Cuban League with 51 RBI in 1947-48, Habana to league title

Dec. 8: On this day in 1925, former Negro, Major and Cuban league outfielder Hank Thompson was born in Oklahoma City, Okla.

Known in Cuba as Ametrilladora, “Machine Gun,” Thompson was elected to the Cuban Baseball Hall of Fame in 2007. He played three season with Habana between 1946-49, batting .320, .318 and .321.

In 1947-48, Thompson led the Cuban League with 51 RBI, helping to lead Habana to the league championship by one game over arch-rival Almendares.

Thompson (shown in this photo that was up for auction at Hakes in November) joined Monte Irvin and Willie Mays in forming the first all-black major-league outfield with the New York Giants in 1951. Ironically, all three were on Cuban League rosters as well, Thompson with Habana and Irvin and Mays with Almendares.

According to his Negro League Baseball Players Association bio, Thompson, on June 9, 1949, married Havana beauty Maria Quesada, in Brooklyn, N.Y.

Friday, December 2, 2011

1955-56 Cuban League season belonged to Oscar Rodriguez' Cienfuegos club

The four managers of the 1955-56 Cuban League season. From left to right:

Napoleon Reyes (Marianao), Conrado Marrero (Almendares), Adolfo Luque (Habana) and Oscar Rodriguez (Ciefuegos).

This photo was up for auction at in September 2010.

With Rodriguez at the helm, Cienfuegos won the Cuban League pennant, finishing six games ahead of Marianao and Habana. Almendares finished 10 games back in last place.

Pitchers Camilo Pascual and Pedro Ramos paced the Elefantes, winning 25 of Cienfuegos' 40 victories.