Hiram "Hi" Bithorn holds the distinction of being the first baseball player from Puerto Rico to play Major League Baseball. Baseball Almanac likes to take a look "beyond the stats" and we hope you enjoy the following biographical information:
Hiram Bithorn's Professional Baseball Career
Bithorn played for the San Juan Senators and at age 22 became the youngest manager in the history of Puerto Rican winter baseball. Soon enough, he was pitching at Wrigley Field.
On September 30, 1941, Bithorn was drafted by the Chicago Cubs and debuted in the Major Leagues on April 15, 1942, making history as the first Puerto Rican to play in the Major Leagues. Bithorn won 9 games and lost 14 in his first season, but he rebounded in 1943 by going 18-12 with an earned run average of 2.60 and completing 19 of his 30 starts, leading the league in shutouts with seven, establishing a record for Puerto Rican pitchers that still stands to this day. During this time, he also formed the first Latin American pitcher-catcher combination along Cuban Chico Hernandez.
After his second season, Bithorn fought for the United States military in World War II. His promising start, though, did not last once he returned from military service. By this moment his weight had risen to 225 pounds, which led to rumors that he may not have the same abilities. Upon returning from the war, he returned to the Chicago Cubs, and went 6-5 in 1946. On January 25, 1947 he was purchased by the Pittsburgh Pirates only to be waived later. On March 22 of the same year, the Chicago White Sox selected him off waivers but only pitched two innings, developing a sore arm that ended his career.
In four seasons, Bithorn had a 34-31 record with 185 strikeouts, a 3.16 ERA, 30 complete games, 8 shutouts, 5 saves, and 509 innings pitched in 105 games (53 as a starter).
Hiram Bithorn's Later Years and Death
Bithorn tried to make a comeback a few years later in the Mexican winter league. But, tragically, on December 28, 1951, at age 35, he was shot & killed by police officer Ambrosio Castillo Cano, in El Mante, Mexico. He was transferred to Ciudad Victoria's hospital, where he died the next day. Initially, officer Castillo Cano claimed that Bithorn was violent and also claimed that Bithorn had said he was part of a "Communist cell," but eventually this argument was debunked and he was sent to prison for Bithorn's murder. Castillo Cano was sentenced to eight years in prison.
Bithorn's achievement of making it to the majors remained a source of pride in Puerto Rico, and he was honored in 1962 when the biggest ballpark on the island was built and named after him. Hiram Bithorn Stadium is located next to Roberto Clemente Coliseum and across the street from Plaza Las Américas, and it also has hosted world championship boxing fights, the 1979 Pan American Games, and important musical spectacles. The Montreal Expos played 22 home games there in both 2003 and 2004. Rounds 1 and 2 of the 2006 and 2009 World Baseball Classics were played here, including teams from Group C and Group D.
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