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Latinos on the Diamond 

Trailblazer of the Day | Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Hiram Bithorn, Luis Aparicio

On April 15, 1942, at Wrigley Field, Hiram Bithorn (1916-51) became the first Puerto Rican to play in the Majors. He set another milestone when he and Cubs catcher Chico Hernandez (see below) became only the second Latino battery in Big League history. Bithorn pitched for both the Cubs and White Sox (interrupted by a U.S. Navy stint), and had a lifetime 3.16 ERA. In 1943, he threw seven shutouts, a record by a Puerto Rican hurler that stands today. Puerto Rico’s largest ballpark is named for this trailblazer: Hiram Bithorn Stadium in San Juan.

The White Sox have long ties to Venezuelan baseball, dating back to their 1950 signing of Chico Carrasquel. One of the most beloved Venezuelan players was shortstop Luis Aparicio (1934- ) who debuted with the Sox in 1956. In a long ball era, “Little Louie” brought flash to the basepaths. The 10-time All-Star led the A.L. in thefts nine times and earned nine Gold Gloves. In 1984, Aparicio became the first South American player inducted into the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown.

One of the greatest players of all-time – Roberto Clemente – is honored in Illinois with the naming of the Roberto Clemente Community Academy in Chicago’s Humboldt Park. He is celebrated with a mosaic at the school.

This season, Latinos constituted 24 percent of the players on MLB’s Opening Day rosters, the 4th-highest ever. Players from the Dominican Republic top the list (89 players) followed by Venezuela and Mexico. Baseball has been played across Latin America since the 1880s. The first Latinos to play in the Majors were two Cuban outfielders – Armando Marsans and Rafael Almeida – who both signed with the Reds in 1911. The first Mexican player in the Majors was Baldomero Almada, who debuted with the Red Sox in 1933.

Chicago baseball milestones:

  • First Cuban players: Chico Hernandez (Cubs 1942); Witto Aloma (White Sox 1950)
  • First Mexican players: Jesse Flores (Cubs 1942); Jorge Orta (White Sox 1972)
  • First Dominican players: Roberto Peña (Cubs 1965); Silvio Martinez (White Sox 1977)
  • First Nicaraguan player: Porfi Altamirano (Cubs 1984)
  • First Panamanian players: Adolfo Phillips (Cubs 1966); Carlos “El Caballo” Lee (White Sox 1999)

Source: Encyclopedia of International Baseball