Asheville Archives: Babe Ruth’s short-lived death in Asheville, 1925

THE GREAT BAMBINO: In 1925, Babe Ruth arrived in Asheville for an exhibition game. Health issues would prevent him from playing. The baseball legend returned six years later for a pair of games against the Tourists. Photo courtesy of the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum

“Preparations are being made to handle one of the largest crowds ever assembled on McCormick Field,” declared the April 5, 1925, edition of The Sunday Citizen. “Plenty of ushers will be on hand to relieve congestion in the grandstands, while sufficient number of ticket sellers will be in action to prevent delays.”

The source of excitement, the paper reported, was the Tuesday exhibition game between the New York Yankees and the Brooklyn Dodgers. The teams’ combined talents, The Sunday Citizen continued, would result in “possibly the greatest collection of baseball stars … assembled on McCormick Field in one day.”

Among the long list of talented sluggers was George Herman “Babe” Ruth. As any baseball expert (or fan of the 1993 film “The Sandlot”) can tell you, “Babe” was just one of Ruth’s many nicknames. Others included: The Sultan of Swat, The Titan of Terror, The Colossus of Clout, The King of Crash and The Great Bambino.

Sadly, the Babe didn’t make it out onto the diamond for the April 7, 1925, game. Earlier that morning, as the team pulled into Asheville by train, The Great Bambino collapsed. Unconscious, he was rushed to the Battery Park Hotel, where he received medical attention by Dr. Charles Jordan.

In Jane Leavy’s 2018 biography, The Big Fella: Babe Ruth and the World He Created, the author writes that the incident “became a season-long feeding frenzy, a steady diet of column inches about Ruthian excess.” Far from a shock, Leavy argues Ruth’s collapse was inevitable:

“Inevitable because everything about him had become overstated: the meals, beer, pounds, spending, and even the linguistic entitlements. He had begun speaking of himself in the third person, a disease that has become endemic to the modern locker room. ‘The Babe can’t disappoint his fans,’ he declaimed the day before he passed out in Asheville, North Carolina, as the Yankees headed north from spring training.”

The incident became known as The Bellyache Heard ’Round the World and was followed by rumors of Ruth’s death. The short-lived hoax was quickly rebutted in print. One example, an April 9 headline in Ohio’s The Portsmouth Daily Times read, “Reports that ‘Babe’ had died on train denied by Ruth himself.”

Ruth was back in New York shortly after his collapse in Asheville. But health issues continued to plague the baseball star, resulting in a six-week stint at St. Vincent Hospital, where he underwent surgery for an intestinal abscess. According to Leavy, the hospital stay cost the Yankees $1,107.03, as well as the American League pennant. Ruth was released from the hospital on May 25, 1925, and returned to the team’s lineup on June 1.

Six years later, in April 1931, the Yankees returned to Asheville for a two-game expo against the Tourists. “Babe Ruth, the left fielder who hits homers, who draws 80,000 bucks a year … will be here, too,” The Asheville Citizen promised its readers.

The first game was held on April 7. The Yankees defeated the Tourists, 5-2. “The booming bat of Babe Ruth lived up to expectations,” the following day’s paper declared.

On April 8, the two teams met again for their second and final game. Both Ruth and teammate Lou Gehrig nailed home runs in the third inning. “The Babe’s smash was lofted to the crest of the right field embankment, while Gehrig’s blow carried … eventually [landing] 30 feet up a bank behind deep centerfield,” The Asheville Citizen wrote.

Later, during the seventh inning stretch, a group of kids rushed Ruth “and put him to work autographing baseballs, scoreboard and whatever else they happened to carry in pants pockets,” the paper noted.

By day’s end, the Yankees defeated the Tourists yet again, 11-3.

But the true winner, proclaimed the April 12, 1931, edition of The Asheville Citizen, was the city itself. In the throes of the Great Depression, the paper wrote:

“From a purely financial viewpoint a good business man has said that the Yankees did not take any money out of Asheville. Their share of the gate receipts amounted to more than $2,000.00 but when you figure that the fifty in the party remained here three days and spent perhaps $20 per day, the balance, if any, is in favor of the city. Hence those fans who pushed their buck through the wicket in return for a ticket to the game, not only got their dollar’s worth of entertainment, but contributed to the financial come-back of the community.”

Editor’s note: Peculiarities of spelling and punctuation are preserved from the original documents.


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About Thomas Calder
Thomas Calder received his MFA in Fiction from the University of Houston's Creative Writing Program. His writing has appeared in Gulf Coast, the Miracle Monocle, Juked and elsewhere. His debut novel, The Wind Under the Door, is now available.

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6 thoughts on “Asheville Archives: Babe Ruth’s short-lived death in Asheville, 1925

  1. Thomas Grant

    Theres a lot of history in the city of Asheville, I’m surprised there’s no real abundance in musical rehearsal spaces fod artist who are trying to get off the ground, considering that the city is famous for its music and art. Elvis pressley was to perform 2 consecutive shows in Asheville on 2 consecutive nights just before his death in 1977, and had planned to move here to the mountains when he retired.

    • NFB

      “and had planned to move here to the mountains when he retired.”

      This urban legend has been around for eons.

        • NFB

          Yes, just like the one about Walt Disney having worked as a draftsman in the Jackson Building and was fired for spending too much time drawing cute cartoons of mice.

          Or that Steven Spielberg bought an entire floor of condos downtown, Robin Williams lived here, or that a pre-divorce Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman moved here.

          And oh yeah, the Obamas never planned to retire here either, nor did Disney want to build a major theme park here back in the 70’s (and then again in the early 90’s.)

          There are many fascinating historical aspects to Asheville that are true. Among them, Babe Ruth did get sick here, both Jimmie Rodgers and Bill Monroe had a radio show here before they hit it big, O. Henry did live here for a period, F. Scott Fitzgerald did spend some time here while his wife Zelda was in a mental institution where she died in a fire, and yes, Elvis Presley did have a concert scheduled here that was canceled after he died, and at a 1975 concert in Asheville he did give one of his guitars to a man who was sitting in the front row. That he was planning on “retiring” here (instead of Graceland) is a rumor.

          • Dawn Grant

            I have a picture with the story on the back of it from years ago. This is the first time I have ever heard it called an urban legend.

  2. schonad

    Thomas – Another great column! Here’s a detail from local baseball historian Bill Ballew you may have missed. Shortly after his arrival at New York’s St. Vincent’s Hospital, the Babe underwent surgery for what was described as an “intestinal abscess.” But those close to the situation, including Yankees general manager Ed Barrow, said privately that it was a bad case of venereal disease.

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