Let’s Remember “The Bellyache Heard Round the World!”

Let’s Remember “The Bellyache Heard Round the World!”

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                                                      Let’s Remember “The Bellyache Heard Round the World!”

Ninety-one years ago this week, on April 5, 1925, the baseball world learned of the “bellyache heard round the world.” That was the name given to a peculiar malady that felled none-other-than baseball’s “Sultan of Swat,” Babe Ruth.

It all started when the Babe collapsed at a railroad station in Asheville, North Carolina before an exhibition game at McCormack Field, one of the real showplaces of minor league baseball and home of the Asheville Tourists. A New York sportswriter, W.O. McGeehan of the New York Tribune, opined that it was caused by a “hot dogs and soda binge,” perhaps providing some cover for the Babe’s raucous and well-published off-field behavior.

In the beautiful photo below, we see Babe Ruth at Spring training, 1921, colorized by Don Stokes

The ailment required hospitalization and was maybe a case of severe indigestion or a virus. It turned out to be more serious than anyone initially thought. Eventually an abdominal operation was performed for what was termed an “intestinal abscess.” The Babe wound up spending seven weeks in the hospital, from April 9 through May 25. Amazingly, he returned to the lineup shortly afterwards, playing in his first game on June 1st.

At the time of the incident, the Yankees were coming north after breaking camp from spring training in Florida. The tradition in those days was for teams to play exhibition games for approximately two weeks while riding the trains back home before opening the regular season. The Yankees and the Brooklyn Dodgers had scheduled a series of pre-season games, which included stops in Atlanta, Chattanooga, Knoxville and Asheville prior to Opening Day on April 14. It’s no surprise that these games generated excitement at every stop. The Yankees and star Babe Ruth were the game’s biggest draw in the 1920’s.

Babe Ruth hadn’t been feeling well since his 30th birthday on February 6, 1925. In addition, his weight had increased significantly over the past few years. There were reports that he went on an eating and drinking binge after the end of the 1924 season and his weight had ballooned to a robust 255 pounds. Hoping to shed excess baggage and get back into shape, Yankee boss Ed Barrow sent him to Hot Springs, Arkansas in February for a program of exercise and steam baths. Unfortunately, not only was the regimen unsuccessful, he caught the flu just before reporting to spring training in St. Petersburg, Florida.

Babe was ailing for most of March up until the team started the trip north. On the way to Atlanta, he complained of flu-like symptoms with chills and high fever. He continued to struggle in Chattanooga, yet remarkably hit two home runs after claiming to be too sick to take batting practice. He added another homer in Knoxville, but experienced stomach cramps with a high fever shortly after.

The bumpy ride through the Great Smoky Mountains probably did little to help his condition. The Bambino was not alone, as several Yankee teammates reportedly felt nauseous on the trip. Upon arrival at the Asheville station, Ruth staggered off the train in front of a large crowd and immediately fainted. If teammate Steve O’Neill had not been there to catch him, Ruth might have been seriously injured had he fallen and hit his head on the station’s marble floor.

Unconscious, Ruth was taken by taxi to the Battery Park Hotel and remained there overnight. The Yankees then made plans to send him on to New York along with scout Paul Krichell the next afternoon. Hot rumors started to circulate almost immediately about the Babe’s condition, including rumors that he was dead.

Whatever caused the Babe’s health issues in early 1925, he managed to overcome the problem and still put up respectable numbers, if low by his “Ruthian” standards. Since 1920, his first year with the Yankees, his home run totals had been 54, 59, 35, 41, and 46. He wound up hitting .290 with 25 home runs in 98 games in 1925, numbers that represented one of the lower outputs of his Hall-of-Fame career, proving that even Babe Ruth was capable of an off-year. A year later, in 1926, he rebounded to hit 47 homers, and followed that with his record 60 home runs in 1927. He continued to lead the majors in homers every year through the1931 season.

There were other rumors as to just what had felled the Babe that spring, but I’ll leave that one alone!

-Gary Livacari
Photo credits: Beautiful colorization of the featured photo of Babe Ruth by Don Stokes:https://www.facebook.com/Don-Stokes-Old-Time-Baseball-Colorizations-923346241033508/

Information: Excerpts edited from article on “The Bellyache Heard Round the World, by Bill Ballew:http://www.milb.com/content/page.jsp?sid=t573&ymd=20070425&content_id=232912&vkey=team1

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I’m a baseball historian who also loves to write. My forte is identifying ballplayers in old photos, and my specail interest is the Dead Ball Era.

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