If you’ve been watching the Caribbean Series this week, you’ve probably noticed that the games are taking place in Hiram Bithorn Stadium. But who is Hiram Bithorn? He was the first baseball player from Puerto Rico to play Major League Baseball. Bithorn played only four years in the Majors for the Chicago Cubs (1942-43, 1946) and the Chicago White Sox (1947).
Hiram Gabriel Bithorn Sosa was born in Santurce, Puerto Rico, on March 18, 1916. He was of Danish/German/Scottish and Spanish descent. Bithorn was a natural athlete, playing volleyball and basketball in addition to baseball. At the age of 20, he signed with the Norfolk Tars of the Class B Piedmont League. He also played for the Binghamton Triplets of the Class A New York-Penn League in 1937 and 1938, as well as the Class AA Newark Bears in 1938. He also played winter baseball for the Senadores of San Juan, becoming the manager of the team in 1938 when the previous manager resigned only two weeks into the season. At age 22, he was the youngest manager in the Puerto Rican Baseball League’s history.
In 1939, Bithorn headed for the Pacific Coast League, playing for the Oakland Oaks that year and for the Hollywood Stars in 1940 and 1941. In September 1941, the Chicago Cubs drafted Bithorn and he made his Major League debut the following April. Although his record in 1942 was 9-14, he doubled his wins in 1943, going 18-12 with an ERA of 2.60. He was the league leader in shutouts in 1943 as well, with seven shutouts.
In 1943, Bithorn joined the U.S. Navy, serving at San Juan Naval Air Station in Puerto Rico. There he was also player-manager of the baseball team. He was discharged from the Navy in September 1945 and played for San Juan that winter, where he injured his hand in a game in February 1946.
Bithorn returned to the Cubs in 1946, but only won 6 games (and losing 5) that year. His contract was sold to the Pirates in January 1947, but he was put on waivers two months later and was selected by the White Sox, where he made only two appearances in 1947. Bithorn returned to baseball in 1949 after undergoing surgery in 1948. He played for both the Nashville Volunteers and the Oklahoma City Indians in 1949, which was his last year as a player. He was an umpire in the Pioneer League in 1951.
Bithorn attempted a comeback in the Mexican Pacific League in 1951 at the age of 35. Sadly, he was shot and killed after an altercation with a police officer in Mexico in December of that year. He was buried in Santurce on January 13, 1952.
In 1962, Puerto Rico honored Bithorn by naming the stadium in San Juan after him.