Benjamin Griggs and His Incredible Non-No-hitter

Greenville 1 Jacksonville 0 (12)
May 27, 1961

  Griggs in 1953 as a member of a Canadian semi-pro team. He undoubtedly would have been in his thirties when he pitched this game.

This amazing game first came to my attention when I saw it mentioned in The Encyclopedia of Minor League Baseball. The 1961 Jacksonville Jets weren't very good, but they were one of the first two farm teams for the still-unborn Houston Colts. They went 51 - 88, more than bad enough for last place in the Class A Sally League. The roster was undistinguished enough so that only one of the Jets would ever make it to Houston, an outfielder by the name of Dave L Roberts, not to be confused with Dave A or Dave W. All the good prospects (Dave Giusti, Jim Campbell, JC Hartman, Ron Davis, and Roberts, too, by the end of the year) were playing for the Cubs in Houston under the Buffs moniker, and the younger guys (notably Aaron Pointer and James Walton) were playing (and winning a title) at Class D Salisbury. But neither the Houston Buffs nor the Salisbury Braves had a no-hitter in '61, and there it was in the Encyclopedia, saying that the Jets had one, and that furthermore, it was a twelve-inning affair, and that the guy who threw the no-hitter lost.

Well, not exactly. But the truth is more than strange enough. The right-handed Jacksonville starter, a man by the name of Benjamin Griggs, was not out of place on this team. He had spent the fifties in both Korea and Canada, doing the military service and the semi-pro ball thing. His first year as a pro, in the New York-Penn league during 1959, was pretty successful. He had gone 21 - 7 and made the All-Star team for the league champion Wellsville Braves, but he was probably all of thirty-three years old when he did it. In 1960, with a jump that was even more impresssive then than it would be now, he moved on from the New York-Penn League to the South Atlantic League, finding a home with Jacksonville, who that year were a farm club for the Milwaukee Braves. He improved his ERA, but that was about all, as he finished 8 - 10 with a 3.84. He returned for 1961, as the newly renamed Jets had become a Colts affiliate, and started the year 2- 0. Which brings us to our game.

The team Ben Griggs was facing that day was the Greenville Spinners, a Dodgers affiliate who came into the game leading the Sally League. They would finish in third place, 15-1/2 back, but would end up leading the league in attendance. No-one on the Spinners ever made a mark in the majors, either, but they were a much younger club, with no-one like the Jets' Jim Greengrass, who had started playing minor league ball in 1944. Greengrass had played for Philadelphia and Cincinatti in the mid-fifties, but was on the tail end of his slide back down the day this game was played. Another player with a long minor league history for the Jets was Ray Dabek, who'd broken in with Jamestown of the old PONY league in '45. Dabek played several years at AAA in the mid-fifties, and unlike Greengrass, would play in '62, for the Colts Cal League Modesto affiliate. For Greenville's Dick A. Smith and John Werhas, the cups of coffee were in the future, not the past. The Spinners' starter that day, Mel McGavock, never would make the majors, but had his best year in 1961, winding up 15 - 13 with a 3.22. He'd pitch several years at AAA.

The game was the nightcap of a doubleheader, and had been scheduled for seven innings. The South Atlantic League was very wet that summer, and the Jets had endured two consecutive rainouts, thus spawning the twin-bill. Our curveballing hero began the game with six straight strikeouts, and would not give up a hit through the scheduled seven. McGavock was giving up hits all over the place, but through either his redoubled efforts with men on base, or the Jets' offensive ineptitude, no-one for Jacksonville had come 'round to score. The game went into extras at 0 - 0. Griggs would not give up a hit, and McGavock would not give up a run, until the innings tally had reached double digits. With two outs in the top of the tenth, it was McGavock himself who broke up Griggs' no-hitter by beating out an infield hit to the third base side of the mound. But Griggs got out of the inning with no further damage. In the bottom of the inning, the Jets had two men on for Walt Matthews, when he hit a deep fly 410 feet to centerfield. But Spinners oufielder Dick Smith hauled it in, and Griggs had to go back to work.

He got the side in the eleventh, but so did McGavock, and the twelfth inning was ushered in. After another half-inning of offensive ineptitude by the Jets, Griggs opened the twelfth with a walk to rightfielder Art Burnett. Catcher Wendell Hall sacrificed Burnett to second, and 3b John Werhas bounced to third for the second out, bringing up the pitcher. Good news, right? Wrong. It was McGavock who'd broken up the no-hitter, and it was McGavock who would make a loser out of Griggs. His shallow pop to left dropped in and Burnett raced home with the winning run. Two hits over 11-2/3 innings and Griggs found himself on the short end. It was no doubt that depressing thought that allowed Griggs to give up another hit to the following batter, Gary Smith. But he got Bill Berrier to end the inning without any further embarassment. The Jets actually had a baserunner in the bottom of the inning, when Jim Greengrass walked for Griggs, but a story like this must end as it does, with Griggs taking the loss. He'd struck out thirteen, walked six, and gave up the one run through the twelve innings. Most definitely NOT a no-hitter, but Griggs' effort was the first great pitching performance in Houston's organizational history, something Don Nottebart, Jay Dahl, and Cliff Davis could look at after they had pitched the subsequent great games of the Houston franchise's early history.

For Griggs' part, after starting 2- 0, he would not a win another game for the Jets, and compiled a 3.19 ERA at Jacksonville before being sent to Cedar Rapids of the Three-I league July 5th. He had a 2.35 ERA there, but the record was 2 - 5 and I don't imagine a 36-year old curveballer got many offers over the following winter; 1961 was his last year in organized ball.

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12
Greenville Spinners 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 1
Jacksonville Jets 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0

Greenville Spinners ABRHRBI

Gary Smith, ss 6 0 1 0
Bill Berrier, lf 6 0 0 0
Dick Smith, cf 4 0 0 0
Mel Corbo, 1b 5 0 0 0
Jose Cesar, 2b 5 0 0 0
Art Burnett, rf 3 1 0 0
Wendell Hall, c 4 0 0 0
John Werhas, 3b 3 0 0 0
Mel McGavock, p 3 0 2 1

Greenville totals38 1 3 1
Jacksonville Jets ABRHRBI

Elio Toboso, cf 2 0 0 0
Bob Fidler, cf 4 0 1 0
Dave L. Roberts, lf 6 0 2 0
Dale Bennetch, rf 5 0 4 0
Walt Matthews, 1b c4 0 0 0
Joe Wooten, c - 2b 5 0 2 0
Dave Jacobs, 2b - ss 5 0 1 0
Bill Rittman, 3b 4 0 1 0
Jose Padilla, ss 3 0 0 0
Ray Dabek, c 1 0 0 0
Benjamin Griggs, p 4 0 0 0
Jim Greengrass, ph 0 0 0 0
Wallace Mixon, pr 0 0 0 0

Jacksonville totals43 0 11 0

E- Griggs 2, Jacobs, Rittman
LOB- Greenville 10 Jacksonville 11
2b - Rittman, Wooten
S - McGavock 2, Hall
SB - Burnett, D. Smith

Greenville IPHRERBBK

Mel McGavock (W, 7 - 2) 12 11 0 0 3 4

Jacksonville IPHRERBBK

Benjamin Griggs (L, 2 - 1) 12 3 1 1 6 13

PB - Wooten
HBP by McGavock (Rittman)
Time - 3:04 Attendance - ?

Using Bill James' Game Scores to evaluate this very well-pitched game, Griggs' effort grades out to a 99, which as far as we know, has never been exceeded in organizational history. Only Don Wilson's first no-hitter, in which he struck out 15 Atlanta Braves, and Blake Green's no hitter pitched May 14, 1972 vs.the Winter Haven Red Sox can even match Griggs' number on this scale for evaluating the most dominant pitching performances. Not bad for a loss, and a game pitched before the major league franchise had even played a game.

Source: (Jacksonville) Florida Times-Union, May 28, 1961
Thanks also to Jay-Dell Mah and Ray Nemec

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