As we get ready to acknowledge the 67th anniversary of Robinson being the first African American player, it will also be the 72nd anniversary of the first Puerto Rican born MLB player in the history of the game. On April 15, 1942, Hiram Bithorn made his MLB debut pitching for the Chicago Cubs. The right handed pitcher made 38 appearances for the Cubs in 1942, going 9-14, 3.62 in 16 starts. A year later, he won 18 games, pitching 249 2/3 innings and leading the NL in shutouts with 7. The next two seasons, Bithorn was serving the US in the Navy and did not play in the major leagues again until 1946. He returned to the Cubs and pitched in 26 games for them, starting 7 of them. He went 6-5, 3.84 while pitching 86 2/3 innings. After being added by the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1947, he ended up pitching 2 innings for the Chicago White Sox before never pitching in the major leagues again.
Unfortunately, Bithorn was shot and murdered by a police officer on December 28, 1951 during a comeback in the Mexican winter league. Bithorn's accomplishment of making it to the big leagues is known throughout Puerto Rico, but not acknowledged enough here in the states. Of course, the big baseball stadium is called "Hiram Bithorn Stadium" and he is known for the impact he made. It is amazing that it has been over 62 years since Hiram Bithorn was killed.
Bithorn's accomplishment led to the emergence of Brooklyn Dodgers OF Luis Olmo, who made his debut on July 18, 1943. Olmo got into 57 games for the Dodgers and hit .303. He got into 136 games the next season, mostly in CF and hit .258, 9, 85 for the Dodgers. 1945 was the season that saw Olmo take off, as he hit .313, 10, 110 with 27 2Bs, a league leading 13 3Bs, 174 hits and a .818 OPs.
During the time Olmo made it to and established himself in the big leagues, the Mexican League was attempting to lure many players by offering them higher salaries. Olmo took the bait and unfortunately suspended indefinitely by Commissioner Happy Chandler for leaving the major leagues. He would not play in another MLB game until the season of 1949, where he appeared in 38 games for the Dodgers. Olmo made his return on June 29th of that season and was on the roster for the Dodgers as they made it to the World Series. Olmo will always be known as the first Puerto Rican born player to hit a home run in the World Series as he connected in game 3 off Yankees LHP Joe Page in the 9th inning to cut the Yankees lead to 4-3. After trading 1-0 wins in the first two games of the series, the Yankees held on for the win in game 3 before winning the series 4 games to 1. Olmo played in 4 of the 5 games and was 3-11. After the season, he was traded to the Boston Braves where he spent his last two seasons in the big leagues. Luis is alive and well at the ripe age of 94. One of my goals will be to have him as a guest on my show if he is up to it.
The great Roberto Clemente became the first Puerto Rican born player inducted in baseball's Hall of Fame. While many know and understand the contributions and humanity of Clemente, not as many know and understand the impact of Bithorn and Olmo. Both should be remembered by all baseball fans as they no doubt were treated differently when they played. If you were aware of the accomplishments, please tell somebody that does not know about either of the two.