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Hiram Bithorn

A photo of Hiram Bithorn.

Template:Infobox MLB retired Hiram Gabriel Bithorn (March 18, 1916 - December 30, 1951) was a Puerto Rican right-handed pitcher who became the first baseball player from Puerto Rico to play Major League Baseball. He was born in Santurce, a heavily populated area of San Juan. His English-looking name, which would typically be pronounced "HIGH-rum" in English, was pronounced the Spanish way: "ee-RRAHM".

Bithorn played for the San Juan Senators and at age 22 became the youngest manager in the history of Puerto Rican winter ball. 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 of the following year making history as the first Puerto Rican to play in the Major Leagues. Bithorn won nine games and lost fourteen in his first season, but he rebounded in 1943 by going 18-12 and completing 19 of his 30 starts, and leading the league in shutouts with seven, establishing a record for Puerto Rican pitchers that still stands.

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. 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, eight shutouts, five saves, and 509 innings pitched in 105 games (53 as a starter).

Bithorn tried a comeback a few years later in the Mexican winter league. But on December 30, 1951, at age 35, he was shot by a police officer in Mexico. He died later in a hospital. Initially, the officer 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 the officer was sent to prison for Bithorn's murder.[1]

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 for 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 World Baseball Classic were played here including teams from Group C and Group D.

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  1. David Maraniss, Clemente: The Passion and Grace of Baseball's Last Hero (New York, NY: Simon & Schuster, 2006), p. 30.