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Samuel Drake dies at 75; infielder for the Cubs, Mets

Sammy and Solomon Drake made baseball history as the first African American siblings to play in the major leagues.

March 07, 2010|By Keith Thursby

When Samuel Drake played minor league baseball in Macon, Ga., in 1955, he was called unspeakable, unprintable things simply because of the color of his skin.

"And these are my home fans," he once said. "I'm not talking about when I would be traveling to Savannah and all these other Southern cities."

Drake persevered, reached the major leagues in 1960 and became part of baseball history with his brother, Solomon Drake, as the first African American siblings to play in the majors. Solomon said of the pressures playing in the South: "We never let it interfere with our game plan," which was to reach the big leagues.

Samuel Drake died Jan. 27 at Kaiser Permanente West Los Angeles Medical Center from cancer, said his wife, Glenda. He was 75.

Known during his playing career as Sammy Drake, he spent parts of 1960 and '61 with the Chicago Cubs and 1962 with the New York Mets during the team's first season. He then returned to the minors because of knee problems.

During the 1955 season in Macon, Ga., Sammy Drake and a teammate, Ernest Johnson, broke the color barrier there.

Solomon Drake, now pastor of Greater Ebenezer Missionary Baptist Church in Los Angeles, said he and his brother sometimes talked about "the foolishness of the signs -- blacks only, whites only; the black water fountains and the white water fountains."

Samuel Drake told the Macon Telegraph about playing for the Macon Peaches, then a Class-A minor league team affiliated with the Chicago Cubs: "There was a little hole-in-the-wall restaurant there they had for us. . . . I didn't have any choice. That was it. And when we traveled, I had to stay on the bus while they would go and bring my food to me. That was very degrading. It hurt, man. It really did."

Samuel Harrison Drake was born Oct. 7, 1934, in Little Rock, Ark. He was attending Philander Smith College in Arkansas when he signed to play baseball with a team in Winnipeg, Canada. He eventually received a bachelor's degree from Philander Smith.

"I recommended [Winnipeg] to him," said Solomon, who had played there. "It was a night-and-day experience compared to some of the things we went through playing in the South."

Samuel Drake expected to sign with the Kansas City Monarchs of the Negro League after playing for them on a tryout, he told the Inland Valley Daily Bulletin in 2005.

"They told me I'd hear from them in a month or so. They called and sent me a contract offering me $400 a month," he said. But he had already signed with Winnipeg.

Drake played in 28 games as an infielder for the Cubs in 1960 and '61, then joined the expansion Mets before the 1962 season. He played only 25 games for New York before heading back to the minors. A researcher at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum confirmed that the Drakes were the first African American siblings to reach the majors. Solomon, known then as Solly, played for the Cubs, Dodgers and Phillies from 1956 to 1959.

"We could both run, we could smoke it," Solomon Drake said with a laugh.

Samuel Drake, who lived in Los Angeles, was a retired investigator with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. He also taught Sunday school at his brother's church.

Along with his brother and wife, Drake is survived by sons from his first marriage, Samuel Jr., Venson and Gerald; stepchildren Kimberly, JaNae and Jonte; nine grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.

keith.thursby@latimes.com

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