|Born: March 18, 1916
Santurce, San Juan, Puerto Rico
|Died: December 29, 1951
Ciudad Victoria, Tamaulipas, Mexico
|Batted: Right||Threw: Right|
|April 15, 1942 for the Chicago Cubs|
|Last MLB appearance|
|May 4, 1947 for the Chicago White Sox|
|Earned run average||3.16|
|Career highlights and awards|
Hiram Gabriel Bithorn Soto (March 18, 1916 – December 29, 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.
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 second Latin American pitcher-catcher combination along with Cuban Chico Hernández.
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.
Later years and death
Bithorn tried to make a comeback a few years later in the Mexican winter league. However, on December 28, 1951, at age 35, he was shot by police officer Ambrosio Castillo Cano, in El Mante, Tamaulipas, 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 in court. Castillo Cano was sentenced to eight years in prison for Bithorn's murder.
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 there, including teams from Group C and Group D. In 2013 the World Baseball Classic Round 1, Pool C was played in the stadium featuring Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, Spain, and Venezuela.
- Puerto Rico's Winter League: A History of Major League Baseball's Launching Pad. Thomas E. Van Hyning. Page 2. (Jefferson, N.C. : McFarland & Co., 1995) ISBN 0786401281. ISBN 9780786401284. Retrieved 3 October 2012.
- Edgardo Rodríguez Juliá (2007-10-14). "Béisbol romántico". El Lanzador: Una Carrera Marcada por la Guerra (in Spanish). Puerto Rico: El Nuevo Día. p. 138.
- David Maraniss, Clemente: The Passion and Grace of Baseball's Last Hero (New York, NY: Simon & Schuster, 2006), p. 30.