The umpire's sons Pulitzer Prize: Story of Hirschbeck's boys wins Sun national award for feature writing.

April 08, 1997

LAST FALL, an argument between Orioles second-baseman Roberto Alomar and umpire John Hirschbeck ended with the player spitting on the umpire -- an outrage that almost led the umpires to boycott baseball's play-offs.

After a suspension for the first five days of the season, the Baltimore Orioles star resumed play yesterday just as it was announced that Lisa Pollak, a feature writer for The Sun, won a Pulitzer Prize for her story about the umpire's sons and their battles with a deadly disease.

As Ms. Pollak wrote, "People might think the worst thing that ever happened to John Hirschbeck was getting spit on by Orioles second baseman Roberto Alomar during a game last season. But it wasn't, not even close."

Her story told how a close-knit family has faced one of the cruelest curves life can throw. The Hirschbecks' two boys, John and Michael, were diagnosed with "adrenoleukodystrophy," usually known as ALD. John, the older child, died in March 1993 at age 8. Michael, two years younger, is now struggling with the same disease. The Hirschbecks' two other children, both girls, are carriers of the ALD gene.

Ms. Pollak's entry was one of three finalists from The Sun in this year's competition. Gregory Kane and Gilbert Lewthwaite were finalists for their investigation of slavery in the Sudan, and Jim Haner was a finalist for his stories about city housing inspectors who owned slum properties that they also regulated.

Ms. Pollak's prize is the 13th Pulitzer won by The Sunpapers. The Pulitzer Prizes are recognized as journalism's most prestigious awards, and Ms. Pollak's compelling story illustrates the quality of work that brings honor not just to this newspaper, but also to the journalism profession. An excerpt from her story:

"[A] bone marrow transplant bought Michael time -- a lifetime, his parents pray. Every year Michael does better in school and has fewer seizures. Every year his parents get on their hands and knees and do more work at little John's gravesite. A few months ago, near the end of the baseball season, they planted a red maple and two weeping hemlocks.

" 'Everybody tells us that as time goes on, it gets easier,' says Denise. 'I don't find that it gets easier. Holidays are hard. Birthdays are hard.' 'Every day is hard,' says John. 'Every day.' "

Pub Date: 4/08/97

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