Puerto Rican Trailblazer

Hiram Bithorn was the first Puerto Rico native to play in the majors

October 12, 2012
(NBHOF Library)

By Connor O’Gara

Exactly five years before Jackie Robinson broke baseball’s color barrier, a different racial wall was knocked down. Hiram Bithorn became the first Puerto Rican to play in the major leagues when he suited up for the Chicago Cubs on April 15, 1942. But before he paved the way for the likes of Hall of Fame players Roberto Clemente, Orlando Cepeda and Roberto Alomar, Bithorn set a new managerial standard. 

At just 22 years old, Bithorn became the youngest manager in Puerto Rican winter league history. While Bithorn was recognized as a manager in Puerto Rico, he had ambitions to succeed as a player in America. Bithorn was drafted by the Cubs in the 1941 Rule 5 Draft after spending five years in the New York Giants’ farm system.   

The San Juan native made his major league debut in the second game of the 1942 season when the Cubs took on the St. Louis Cardinals. Bithorn tossed two shutout innings in relief to start off his big league career. Following his rookie campaign, the 27-year-old right-hander delivered his best season in the big leagues. Bithorn went 18-12 with a 2.60 ERA and finished with a National League-best seven shutouts. 

But just as Bithorn was starting to hit his stride in the big leagues, he was once again called upon to serve the greater good. Bithorn was drafted into the U.S. Navy in 1943 and missed the 1944 and 1945 season. Following his return from service, Bithorn played two seasons in the majors and spent two more in the minors before retiring in 1949.   

Bithorn’s memory lives on in the fabric that makes up Puerto Rican baseball today. Hiram Bithorn Stadium was built in 1962 in honor of the trailblazing Puerto Rican. Puerto Rico’s largest stadium played host to the Montreal Expos in 2003 and 2004 the World Baseball Classic in 2006 and 2009. Since Bithorn made his debut in 1942, more than 230 Puerto Rican baseball players have spent time in the major leagues.  

 Check out bios of other Latin Legends here

Connor O’Gara was the 2012 public relations intern in the Hall of Fame’s Frank and Peggy Steele Internship Program for Youth Leadership Development..

For information on how to apply for the Class of 2013 Steele Internship Program, click here