Detroit's birthday party for Babe Ruth (since 1988) is Saturday

- What in the world is a guy from Dearborn Heights doing throwing a birthday party for Babe Ruth, a guy from Baltimore, who played for Boston and New York - and absolutely crushed Tigers pitching?

To get the answer, you have to go back 30 years. Tom Derry, an otherwise kind-hearted soul, liked to torment a barkeep by playing an annoying birthday song on the juke box - "Happy birthday" by the Sunsetters.

The torture included bringing in a photo of whichever famous person was born on that particular date. Then, one January, he conjured up a diabolical plan.

"As it got closer to February, I thought Babe Ruth's birthday is coming up, I can't just bring a picture," Tom said. "I thought 'that calls for a party."

Tom sent out loads of invitations, no one responded.

"I didn't think anyone would show up, but it turned out 12 of us were there that night in 1988, we had a blast," he said. "It was so much fun, i just kept it going."

For years, party headquarters was Tom's Tavern, a -- how shall I put this -- rustic establishment not far from the University of Detroit-Mercy.

Since pictures speak louder than words, I don't need to tell you why the party moved several years ago to Nemo's Bar and Grill in Corktown.

Now, Nemo's is just down Michigan Avenue from Tiger Stadium, but Tom can't say for sure that "The Bambino" ever stopped in - and he really doesn't have a good alibi for passing over some pretty good Tigers.

ML: "So why not have a Mickey Cochrane birthday? Do you even know when Mickey Cochrane's birthday is?"

Tom: "Well, you know, I toast to a lot of different ballplayers ... 

ML: "Oh, boy ..."

Preparations for the Babe's birthday begin a week early for this annual affair.

By the time volunteers are done, the bar will be filled with balloons, Baby Ruth candy bars, Cracker Jacks -- and 714 hot dogs. The tube steaks memorialize Ruth's career home run total and his so-phist-o-cated palate.

"You ever see a can of Vienna sausage when you open it up? it's like that. wall-to-wall, back-to-back, hot dogs flying left and right," said Adam Millikin.

Tom takes a week off from his job at the post office to get things just the way he likes them.

ML: "Are you normally obsessive, or is this a one-off?"

Tom: "I am with old-time baseball."

Tom and his friends including artists like Jerry Lemenu make virtually all of the decorations.

ML: "Where do you keep all this? I mean i imagine you're married, right? 

Tom: "I just have a couple Babe Ruth things in the living room."
 
Tom: "The basement."

ML: "Mrs. Derry, God bless you!"

Sarah Derry: "I knew what I was getting into from the very second that I met him."

Tom: "The basement is packed. It's tough to walk through the basement. There's stuff everywhere."

Even in the face of withering interrogation, Tom Derry would not crack: He insists this bizarre birthday party for a man with - at best - tangential ties to Detroit is really just about having a good time celebrating a man who liked to have a good time.
 
Still, I had to hit him with one more tough question.

ML: "You have maybe a vague resemblance to him, maybe, maybe Babe had a night he didn't want anybody to know about?"

ML: "He's not your grandpa, is he? 

Tom: "No." 

If you want to attend Babe Ruth's birthday bash (including free hot dogs, Cracker Jack and Baby Ruth candy bars) it is Feb. 3 at Nemo's, 1384 Michigan Avenue.
 

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