Puerto Rico’s Hiram Bithorn paved the way for a nation of baseball stars

Written by: Andrew Kivette

Baseball may be regarded as America’s Pastime, but in baseball-crazed Puerto Rico, the sport is the past, present and future.

Prior to 1942, however, no native Puerto Rican had played at the major league level in the United States.

Hiram Bithorn made history as the first player from Puerto Rico to play Major League Baseball. As pitcher for the Chicago Cubs, Bithorn debuted April 15, 1942.

“When I was old enough to walk, I remember my dad throwing socks to me and I had a coat hanger in my hand and would swing and hit the socks,” said Karl Bithorn Jr., Hiram’s great grand-nephew who once coached a summer collegiate league team in Cooperstown. “I have been playing baseball my entire life.”

Karl’s great great uncle opened the door for a whole nation of baseball talents. Since his debut in 1942, hundreds of Puerto Rican players have played at the MLB level.

“[Being related to Hiram Bithorn] means a lot. To have somebody that is a relative of yours to open the floodgates – so to speak – to ballplayers in the major leagues is definitely significant,” Bithorn said. “It’s someone that I look up to even though I was never fortunate to meet him. Knowing that I’m related to someone that was the first – there’s only one first – so that’s unbelievable. It’s a great feeling.”

Overall, Hiram Bithorn played four years in the MLB – three with the Chicago Cubs and one season with the White Sox. He won 34 games while posting an ERA of 3.16. In 1943, Bithorn had his best season when he went 18-12 with a 2.60 ERA and an MLB-best seven shutouts for the Cubs, earning votes in that year's National League MVP race.

He passed away on Dec. 29, 1951. In 1962, the city of San Juan, Puerto Rico, named its new baseball park Hiram Bithorn Stadium.

Andrew Kivette was the 2013 public relations intern in the Hall of Fame’s Frank and Peggy Steele Internship Program for Youth Leadership Development

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