MLB History: Babe Ruth’s Alcohol Use Hurts Him on the Field

'Babe' Ruth

Ruth circa 1925 (General Photographic Agency/Getty Images)

In 1923, the original Yankee Stadium opened in the Bronx and Babe Ruth was the American League MVP in the award’s second year of existence. That fall, Ruth led the Yankees to the franchise’s first World Series win. More success followed in 1924 as Ruth led the league with a .378 batting average and 46 HR. At this point, Ruth’s star had grown so bright that the slugger’s social life began to overrun his baseball career.

Things came to a head when the Babe missed part of spring training and 56 games of the 1925 season largely due to his appetite for booze and women. In this edition of our tour through MLB history, we look at the year Ruth drank himself out of the lineup and the “Bellyache Heard ‘Round the World” that followed an epic offseason of partying and his 30th birthday celebration on February 6.

Ruth becomes mortal

Because he played at such a high level while showcasing an endless tolerance for women, whiskey, cigars, and hot dogs, Yankees fans and teammates considered the Babe something like immortal since his Bronx arrival in 1920. When the carousing caught up with him in 1925, Ruth fell hard. It started when he showed up at Spring Training weighing somewhere between 255 and 270 pounds. Flu-like symptoms and stomach problems plagued the inflated slugger throughout training camp in St. Petersburg, Fla.

On the way back to New York, the Yankees staged their usual run of exhibition games through the South and Mid-Atlantic to break up the long train ride. According to MiLB.com, Ruth did not take well to the trip through the Great Smoky Mountains. After landing in Asheville, N.C., Ruth fainted at the train station and was taken to a hotel for treatment by local physicians. Rumors of the Babe’s death began to circulate after another episode that week.

‘The Bellyache Heard ‘Round the World’

Photo by Keystone/Getty Images

Ruth and President Warren Harding in 1923 (Photo by Keystone/Getty Images)

Ruth did not fully recover during the Asheville stopover. On his way to New York for treatment, he fainted again on the train, which prompted journalists to print stories he was dying (or actually had died) along the way. According to MiLB.com, a London newspaper published an obituary of the partied-out slugger, which led a New York Tribune reporter to call the episode ‘The Bellyache Heard ‘Round the World.”

Eventually, Ruth made it to New York and received treatment for an intestinal abscess, which kept him bedridden through April and most of May. Rumors that hot dogs, moonshine, and venereal disease were the cause of Ruth’s ailments made the rounds in spring of 1925, but most agreed he had dug his immune system a deep hole with his offseason celebrations. Without their great slugger, the Yankees flopped, finishing ahead of only the Ruth-deprived Red Sox in the American League.

The team likely would not have done much better with Ruth in the lineup. Once the Sultan of Swat got back on the field, he clubbed 25 home runs and hit .290 in 98 games but continued keeping the party going. (His roommate on road trips claimed he only ever saw the Babe’s suitcase back at the hotel.) This Great Game recounts an episode later in the year when Yankees skipper Miller Huggins docked Ruth $5,000 of his 1925 salary, which was a huge sum at the time.

Only then did Ruth get off the party train. By 1926, the Babe was back in form and led the Yankees back to the World Series with 47 HR, 153 RBI, and a young first baseman named Lou Gehrig hitting behind him. In 1927, Ruth did the impossible by swatting 60 home runs, a record that stood for 34 years. It was a climb back to the pinnacle of the sport for the greatest slugger in MLB history, and a revival that seemed improbable to observers that dark spring of ’25.

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