William P. Drake
(Big Bill, Plunk)
- Bats Right, Throws Right
- Height 6' 0", Weight 205 lb.
Bill Drake was a Negro League pitcher for a decade and a half. He is 15th all-time in the Negro Leagues in wins according to John Holway's statistics. Holway credits him with a 99-61 record, which is not reflect below as more recent research into 1921-1923 has reduced his record a bit. He was 0-6 in the postseason and against white major leaguers. He was known for his tendency to use the beanball to ward off hitters, giving him the nickname "Plunk."
1915-1919: The early years
Drake played with several minor black teams. In 1915, he was with the All-Nations. In 1916, he began a run with the St. Louis Giants, going 0-1. The club only played one game against other top black teams in 1917 in the Negro Leagues and four a year later. Drake was 0-1 in 1919.
1920-1922: St. Louis; rising to prominence
Drake was 16-9 with one save and a 3.87 RA in a fine 1921 season. He gave up only one home run in 195 1/3 IP and completed 19 of 22 starts. He tied Bullet Rogan for the NNL lead in wins and was second to Rogan in strikeouts (123-117). He hit .188/.253/.238. In an exhibition series against the St. Louis Cardinals, he was 0-2 with a 6.30 RA.
Bill was 0-4 with a 8.80 RA for the 1922 St. Louis Stars, allowing just about two baserunners per inning.
1922-1925: Kansas City
Switching to the Kansas City Monarchs, Drake went 6-5 with a 5.72 RA to wrap up the year. Bill would spend five years with the Monarchs, never signing a contract.
Drake was active in the 1924-1925 California Winter League for the Los Angeles White Sox. He went 11-5 and led the CWL in wins, complete games (17), innings (155) and walks (54).
In 1925, Bill went 10-4 with a 1.98 RA. He led the NNL in RA, .34 ahead of runner-up Nelson Dean. He was 4th with 49 strikeouts. In the playoffs, though, he went 0-1 with a 4.00 RA and in the 1925 Negro World Series, was 0-2 with a 9.09 RA. He allowed oen run in 10 innings to start the opener but gave up four in the last two frames and was torched in game four.
1926-1930: Later years
Drake bounced around in 1926, going 7-6 for the Indianapolis ABCs and also spending time with the Dayton Marcos and Memphis Red Sox. In 1927, Big Bill had a 11-8 record for the Detroit Stars. He then vanished from black baseball for a couple years, resurfacing briefly for the 1930 St. Louis Stars, winning his lone decision.
Miscellaneous notes and post-baseball career
Plunk was known for his trick pitches and curveball.
Drake played with white semipro teams in North Dakota during his career but refused to play in the Florida Hotel League due to racial conditions in the South. Later in life, he did take a basketball team to Atlanta, GA to play against black college teams. Bill also refused to play in the Caribbean due to the response Cuban batters in the USA had to his tendency to work inside.
Off the field, Bill had the reputation as a jokester.
Drake did not plan much for his post-baseball life and did not hold a steady job until the 1940s; from age 52 to 62, he worked for Famous & Barr before retiring. He struggled financially due to his lack of planning and sought aid where available, once claiming war service in a pension appeal.
- Research by Gary Ashwill
- The Complete Book of Baseball's Negro Leagues by John Holway
- The Biographical Encyclopedia of the Negro Baseball Leagues by James Riley
- The California Winter League by William McNeil
- 1923 Negro National League Yearbook, by Peter Ventura and Patrick Rock, Replay Publishing