“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.