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TY’S HOMETOWN FANS CRY FOUL OVER `COBB’

SHARE TY’S HOMETOWN FANS CRY FOUL OVER `COBB’

This may not be the town Ty Cobb built, but try smacking a line drive in the heart of the community without hitting a park bench, a street sign or a building inscribed with the baseball legend's name.

And if you're one of the fans who drive to Royston every year, you may be lucky enough to run into family friend Roberta Brown, 70, who provides a living history of the local hero."One year, he was in a race for the batting average title," Brown said in a quiet, measured tone. "There was this fellow from South Carolina. His name was Shoeless Joe Jackson. They were quite friendly with each other. But (at the game), Ty wouldn't speak to him then. That got Shoeless Joe thinking about why Ty wouldn't speak to him. Then Ty went out and won the batting title."

When the cast and crew of the movie "Cobb" arrived in Royston, population 2,758, locals welcomed cameras on the square. Town talk is still buzzing about whose pastor will appear in what scene, and which councilwoman's husband didn't make the final cut. The film opens in Atlanta on Jan 6.

But there is regret in Royston, too. Some citizens have cried foul over the film's rough-edged portrait of Cobb. Sure, they've all heard the stories: Cobb filing his spikes razor-sharp to injure opponents; Cobb attacking a handicapped heckler; Cobb dying alone in 1961.

But the stories don't describe the Ty Cobb that Louise Wray remembers. The 78-year-old family friend, co-owner of Wray's Drug Store on the square, said Cobb in his retirement years was a genteel Georgian who liked to pass afternoons in her store, drinking a Coke and chatting about his hometown.

"He was just so gracious," Wray said. "He wasn't arrogant at all."

There is no local museum for Cobb in Royston, although City Hall tends to function as one. It's where fans from across the country sign the guest book and sort through the piles of newspaper clippings, yellowing pictures and obscurities like a $12 check Cobb wrote to a fertilizer company in 1924.

There's also the town library, which shows an 18-minute video on Cobb. The mausoleum where he was buried is less than a mile south of the square on Ga. 17. And framed pictures of Cobb line the halls at what is considered Cobb's greatest donation to the town: the local hospital system.

It started as a $100,000 gift in the late 1940s to open the 24-bed Cobb Memorial Hospital. (Which, locals point out, Cobb intended to be named for his parents, not himself.) It's grown to a more than 350-bed complex that includes the hospital, a personal care operation, a convalescent center and a home care service.

The hospital plans to open a Cobb museum wing in 1995.

"Most people here have come to grips with the fact that he was not a fairy tale character," said local video store owner Tony McCollum, who has a bit part in the movie. "But it's an undisputed fact that he was the greatest ballplayer ever."

At least in Royston it is.