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On this date in Cardinals history: April 15, 1942

Most baseball fans know -- especially since Major League Baseball retired his number in 1997 and celebrates this day in his honor since then -- that Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier for African-Americans when he made his major league debut on April 15, 1997.

But far fewer realize that a different barrier was broken in Major League Baseball on the same date five years earlier.

On April 15, 1942 Hiram Bithorn became the first Puerto Rican person to play in the majors during a game that happened at Sporsman's Park in St. Louis. Bithorn, a pitcher, threw two hitless weekends for the Cubs. But the Cardinals won the game 4-2.

Bithorn had his best season in 1943 when he was 18-12 with a 2.60 ERA and a league leading seven shutouts. For his carrer, Bithorn was 34-31 with a 3.16 ERA. He likely would have lasted much longer, but he left baseball to fight for the U.S. Army in World War Two and when he came back he just wasn't the same pitcher.

Ironically, Bithorn's last major league appearance -- a scoreless inning for the White Sox against the Athletics -- came on May 4, 1947, just a few day's after Robinson's historic achievement. Because of a sore arm, he retired.

Bithorn died in December 1951 in Mexico where he was trying to make a comeback in the Winter League. A police officer, who claimed Bithorn was a violent member of a pro-communist group, shot the former pitcher and Bithorn lingered on for a few days in the hospital before he passed away. The officer's story was proven to be false and he was convicted of Bithorn's murder and sentenced to eight years in prison.

A hero in Puerto Rico, he was honored in 1962 by having the largest sports stadium named after him. Hiram Bithorn Stadium has hosted a number of high profile events through the years, perhaps most notably when the Expos played several games there in 2002 and 2003 after Major League Baseball bought the club and operated it while looking for a new owner.

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