Saturday, March 14, 2009

Umpire Shirt Comparison Review

Many umpires cannot select their equipment and apparel in person and must make decisions based upon the advice of others and descriptions both on-line and in catalogs. Questions concerning fit and durability are frequent subjects on umpire forums. Today’s post takes a comparative look at seven different umpire shirts from different manufacturers.

My goal in this article is to provide information to umpires regarding the more popular umpire shirts and hopefully make the decision process a little easier. Shirts will be evaluated in seven categories: Weight, Breathability, Construction, Value, Appearance, a “Prick” test, and a Wrinkle test. The line-up is:

1. Gerry Davis Signature Umpire Shirt with thanks to Mary
2. Ump-Attire Ultimate Umpire Shirt with thanks to Jim Kirk
3. Honig’s Major League Umpire Shirt
4. Dalco D260 Umpire Shirt
5. Smitty Apparel Umpire Shirt with Comfortech 100 with thanks to Dawn
6. The Official’s Choice Umpire Shirt with thanks to Paul Anderson
7. Cliff Keen MXS Umpire Shirt

Initial Research
Before I begin, I need to discuss an important matter. When I set out to evaluate these seven umpire shirts I did not expect such a variety of different fabrics. All of the umpire shirts tested are made from some type of polyester fabric, however five of the shirts (The Official’s Choice, Cliff Keen, Ump-Attire, Dalco and Smitty Apparel) claim to be made from moisture wicking fabric.

The concept of moisture wicking clothing has been around a long time. The idea is to draw the moisture away from your skin to a place where it is either absorbed or can evaporate. An old hunter’s trick is to wear silk socks under wool socks. The silk socks wick away the moisture and the wool absorbs it.

Older polyester fabrics, like the disco shirts from the 1970s, did not breathe well which consequently trapped sweat and made Disco Stu into Stinky Stu. Early polyester clothing also tended to snag easily. Cotton breathes very well, but as every umpire knows cotton absorbs and holds moisture. The best sports fabrics are blends of high-tech polyester and cotton which use the best features of both: moisture wicking and breathability.

In the 1990s a Maryland Terrapins' football player tired of his soggy t-shirt worn under his football pads developed an undershirt that became the Under Armour brand. Under Armour (and all the copy-cat materials developed in its wake) wicks away sweat from your body so it can evaporate. Does it keep you cooler? I don’t know, but I can attest that my UA Heat Gear t-shirt keeps me feeling drier and more comfortable. I love my UA Heat Gear and recommend it to all umpires.

A moisture wicking undershirt is a great benefit, but that begs the question, “What benefit is provided by an outer layer of moisture wicking material?”

I asked this question to TUG (The Undershirt Guy) at UnderShirtGuy.com. TUG has done personal testing and review on undershirts and has this to say:

“I wouldn't say I'm an expert in moisture wicking technology, but from my research, it is my understanding that it would be better to have a single close/tight fitting moisture wicking product that would allow air to flow freely over the outer part of the garment to allow the wetness to dry out quicker. One thing to remember, if the garment is not tight fitting, the moisture from your body will not make contact with the garment and will not transfer to the outer layer of the fabric as effectively.

Also, from my personal experience, some moisture wicking materials dry much faster than others. I've had some that dry in 15-20 minutes and others that take hours to dry. So, these fabrics are definitely not all created equally. In the event you're interested, I've also been doing some additional research and have been finding evidence that moisture wicking products hold odor much more than other non-wicking materials like cotton so people have noticed, for example, that moisture wicking undershirts hold on to someone's B.O. a lot more than standard undershirts.”

Thanks to TUG, his research and his input. TUG has a number of informative articles on his site that are of interest to anyone sweating in the hot sun, including this one on moisture wicking undershirts:
http://www.undershirtguy.com/2008/06/13/moisture-wicking-undershirts-which-one-to-choose-and-why/

Testing and Measurements
Shoulder measurements were taken from the collar seam along the shoulder seam to the bottom of the sleeve. Chest measurements were taken from under the arm hole across the chest to the under the other arm hole.

To test breathability I used my wife’s hair dryer on cool setting to force air through the shirt onto my face. To weigh the shirts I used a postage scale. For the pricking test I ran a car key over the inside of the shirts to see if it would snag (and I wore each shirt with my Wilson Platinum chest protector). Unscientific? You bet! My apologies to the ghost of Lavoisier.

Now on to the review. . .


DALCO D260 UMPIRE SHIRT

Construction
The Dalco Umpire Shirt is one of five shirts made from moisture wicking material (the manufacturer description is “treated with Comfort Finish for moisture management”). I purchased this XXL shirt from a local retailer when asked to do a last minute USSSA softball tournament. It is one of two open-hole shirts in the review (the other is The Official’s Choice). The shirt performed poorly in the prick test and snagged frequently on my chest protector. The feel of the mesh is cheap and stiffer than the other shirts. The dimensions of this XXL shirt are quite large:
28.5” chest
28.5” bottom hem
19.5” shoulder

Breathability
As one of two open-hole shirts in this review, it is not surprising that the Dalco shirt performed extremely well in the breathability test, second only to the other open-hole shirt, The Official’s Choice.

Appearance
The shirt looks good although the open-hole design makes the shirt a little transparent. While not as transparent as The Official’s Choice shirt, a different undershirt shirt color will bleed through. The shirt performed adequately in the wrinkle test.

Weight
The Dalco shirt weighs 11 ounces and is surprisingly heavy for an open-hole shirt.

Value
Ump-Attire sells the Dalco D260 for $27.95.

$26.95 at CAT Sports

Final Rank: Last place
The Dalco shirt is cheaply made and costly. For the price of a Dalco D260 I can get a much nicer Gerry Davis Signature Shirt, or a Smitty Apparel Shirt and a Big Mac, or a shirt from The Official’s Choice and dinner at Applebee’s.


CLIFF KEEN MXS

Construction
The MXS stands for Moisture eXchange System and is one of the five shirts in this review made from moisture wicking fabric. The construction is fair, but with limited use shows wear faster than other shirts I have owned. The XL shirt dimensions are:
25” chest
25” bottom hem
19” shoulder

The Cliff Keen MXS accommodates a chest protector and fits me well enough on the bases. The Cliff Keen MXS feels “spongy” like a polyester shirt from the 70’s. The shirt construction is good and appears well-made around the seams. It is close-holed construction and the holes are very small. This shirt performed best in the prick test and the fabric is very soft and smooth (and spongy, did I mention that?).

Breathability
The Cliff Keen shirt performed the worst in the breathability test allowing almost no air through the fabric.

Appearance
This shirt looks good on the field, although it performed poorly in the wrinkle test.

Weight
The Cliff Keen MXS weighs in at 10 ounces - the middle of the pack in weight.

Value
A quick search for the Cliff Keen MXS found that it sells between $33.00-$36.00. This is a premium price for an umpire shirt:
$33.00 at Lester’s Upstate Sports

$36.00 on the Cliff Keen Website

$35.90 at Gerry Davis

Final Rank: 6th out of 7
I purchased this Cliff Keen MXS shirt from a local retailer last year when I needed a blank powder blue shirt for a few college softball fall games. I do not like the feel of this shirt or the lack of breathability. It is also one of the most expensive in the review. Even though it actually scores higher than the Dalco, it is my least favorite umpire shirt. A friend of mine owns this shirt and commented that the shirt stains easily and is hard to keep clean. Of course, maybe it’s my friend that is hard to keep clean.


THE OFFICIAL’S CHOICE

Construction
I have previously reviewed The Official’s Choice shirt. The shirt is open hole and made from a moisture wicking material the company calls “UmpDry.” I would rank the construction below average, but still very acceptable. The stitching is neither tight nor consistent and the seams are not as substantially bound (hey, I’m not a tailor, so please forgive my poor description. In simple terms the seams and stitching are not as “good” as other shirts). The Official’s Choice shirt performed poorly on the prick test although I have not had a problem with snagging with this shirt from my chest protector.

Be warned: The Official’s Choice shirts run large. The dimensions of the L shirt I tested are:
25” chest
25” bottom hem
18” shoulder

The XL measures:
25” chest
25” bottom hem
19” shoulders

Breathability
The Official’s Choice shirt performed the best in the breathability test. The open-hole design allowed the most airflow of the shirts tested. As discussed above, creating airflow is extremely important to the evaporation process.

Appearance
As detailed in my previous post, the open-hole design tends to show print underneath it and a different colored undershirt can bleed through. The shirt performed below average in the wrinkle test.

Weight
The Official’s Choice shirt weighs 8.75 ounces – the lightest of the shirts.

Value
These shirts are currently offered by The Official’s Choice starting at $19.84.

Final Rank: 5th place out of 7
Since the open-hole design has a greater “see-through” factor, I am reluctant to use this shirt behind the plate where the MLB emblem of my Wilson Platinum chest protector is plainly visible. However, my association requires a navy blue t-shirt under the navy blue baseball shirt, so I suspect this will be my favorite shirt for hot weather wear on the bases. As August rolls around, I might even talk myself in to using this shirt behind the plate. It is light weight, inexpensive, and very breathable. The bottom line is that I will purchase more of these shirts for hot weather wear.


HONIG’S MAJOR LEAGUE SHIRT

Construction
The Honig’s Major League Shirt is one of two shirts not made from moisture wicking material (the other is Gerry Davis). The holes are closed, but larger than other closed-hole shirts tested. After hundreds of ballgames I can personally attest to the durability of this shirt. However, this shirt does sometimes snag on my chest protector and performed below average in the prick test.

The Honig’s Major League Shirt is cut slimmer than other umpire shirts, but accommodates my chest protector adequately. The dimensions of the XL shirt I tested are:
24” chest
23” bottom hem
17” shoulder

Breathability
The Honig’s shirt performed surprisingly well during the breathability test and was the best of the closed-hole designs.

Appearance
The Honig’s navy baseball shirt is a lighter shade of navy blue than any other shirt tested. Since the shirt is cut a little slimmer it fits better and therefore looks better in the field. The shirt performed below average in the wrinkle test.

Weight
The Honig’s shirt weighs only 9.5 ounces, and tied with the Ump-Attire shirt as the second lightest shirt.

Value
These shirts are currently offered by Honig’s for $32.95. Honig’s also offers flat-rate ground shipping and 10% discounts for members of many associations.

Final Rank: 4th out of 7
Honig’s has a great reputation in the umpire community. Many umpires swear by the brand, including myself until conducting this review. Honig’s is a very good umpire shirt and its combination of light weight and breathability make it a good choice for year round work. On the other hand, it costs considerably more than other all-season shirts (like Smitty Apparel).


GERRY DAVIS SIGNATURE SHIRT

Construction
The Gerry Davis Signature Shirt is one of two shirts not made from moisture wicking material (the other is Honig’s). This shirt is actually manufactured by Cliff Keen. The holes are closed. This shirt has a very substantial feel to it and the stitching at the seams appears very well made. The Gerry Davis shirt was average during the prick test.

I described my frame (48” jacket, 5’10” 210#) to the folks at Gerry Davis and they sent me an XXL shirt. I wrote back before testing that I thought the shirt was a little large and was told that the shirt is “sized to accommodate your chest protector.” The dimensions of the XXL shirt I tested are:
27” chest
27“ bottom hem
18” shoulder

I found the XXL shirt obviously too large for me. Its dimensions are large, but not as large as the XXL Dalco reviewed here. Keep that in mind when ordering.

Breathability
The Gerry Davis shirt performed poorly in the breathability test.

Appearance
The Gerry Davis shirt is a sharp looking shirt. If looking your best is your only criteria, choose this shirt. It also performed surprisingly well in the wrinkle test.

Weight
The Gerry Davis shirt weighs 14 ounces, the heaviest shirt in this review and 5.25 ounces heavier than The Official’s Choice shirt.

Value
These shirts are currently offered by Gerry Davis for $25.90.

Final Rank: 3rd out of 7
Reading the above ranking might give the reader an impression that I dislike this shirt. Not so. The testing is heavily weighted to prefer shirts that perform well during hot summer days. But not all games are played in August. I remember playing in a snow storm during college when I couldn’t see the outfielders from the plate (yep, we got an official game in that day). I have also seen my share of snow, sleet, and freezing rain while umpiring. The Gerry Davis Signature shirt screams quality. It is also almost a half pound heavier than the other test shirts. I rank this shirt at the bottom of the list for a hot weather shirt, but at the top for cold weather.


SMITTY APPAREL UMPIRE SHIRT WITH COMFORTECH 100

Construction
The Smitty Apparel Umpire Shirt with ComforTech 100 is one of the five shirts made from moisture wicking material. It is a closed-hole design and well constructed. It also performed above average in the prick test and did not snag on my chest protector. The dimensions of the L shirt are:
23” chest
23.5” bottom hem
17.5 shoulder

The dimensions of the XL shirt are slimmer than most and very similar to Honig’s:
24” chest
25” bottom hem
17.5 shoulder

Breathability
The Smitty Apparel shirt performed average in the breathability test behind Honig’s and the two open-hole shirts (The Official’s Choice and Dalco).

Appearance
The shirt performed very well in the wrinkle test. In my opinion the Smitty Apparel shirt looks slightly better than the Cliff Keen shirt.

Weight
The Smitty Apparel shirt weighs 10.5 ounces and is in the middle of the pack.

Value
A quick search for the Smitty Apparel Umpire Shirt with ComforTech 100 found prices between $22.95-27.90:

$26.00 at The Official Call

$27.90 at Discount Umpire Gear

$22.95 at Ump-Attire


Final Rank: 2nd out of 7
I was pleasantly surprised by the Smitty Apparel shirt. At this price point I expected a cheaper quality shirt and did not expect it to perform as well during testing. Just like a scrappy middle infielder, the Smitty shirt just kept showing that it could do the job and hang with the big boys. It ended up second in the test, one point behind Ump-Attire, but over $10.00 cheaper in price than the Ump-Attire Ultimate Umpire Shirt.


UMP-ATTIRE ULTIMATE UMPIRE SHIRT

Construction
The Ump-Attire Ultimate Umpire Shirt is one of five shirts made from moisture wicking material. Jim Kirk, owner of Ump-Attire, reports an extensive process in the development of the Ultimate Umpire Shirt. It was important to Jim that these shirts withstand the rigors of umpiring and remain comfortable. He writes:

“What we found was a material used by the military that not only was comfortable and wicked moisture but also was wrinkle-free and most importantly could stand up to any metal or hard plastic rubbing against it. In other words, the fabric will not "pick".”

The holes are closed and the shirt is very well constructed. As Jim predicted, the shirt performed exceptionally well in the prick test and did not snag on my chest protector. The dimensions of this XL shirt are:
25.5” chest
25” bottom hem
18.5” shoulder

I like these dimensions on the plate. It is a little larger than the Honig’s shirt and accommodates my chest protector a little better.

Breathability
The Ump-Attire shirt performed below average in the breathability test.

Appearance
The shirt looks great and performed best in the wrinkle test. While I prefer the appearance of the Gerry Davis Signature Shirt, the Ultimate Umpire Shirt is a close second.

Weight
The Ump-Attire shirt weighs only 9.5 ounces, second lightest of all shirts (tied with Honig’s)

Value
Jim Kirk states that these shirts will be offered by Ump-Attire and sell for $32.95. That’s a competitive price with Cliff Keen and Honig’s for a nicer shirt.

Final Rank: First Place
The Ump-Attire Ultimate Umpire Shirt will be available in late March, 2009. Is this the ultimate umpire shirt? Well, after tallying all categories it scored the highest overall. This is definitely a quality shirt that was designed with care and attention to appeal to umpires across the board.

SCORES
Scale is 1 to 7; 7 being best
Weight
The Official's Choice 7, Ump-Attire 6, Honig's 6, Cliff Keen 4, Smitty Apparel 3, Dalco 2, Gerry Davis 1
Breathability
The Official's Choice 7, Dalco 6, Honig's 5, Smitty Apparel 4, Ump-Attire 3, Gerry Davis 2, Cliff Keen 1
Construction
Gerry Davis 7, Smitty Apparel 6, Ump-Attire 5, Honig's 5, Cliff Keen 3, The Official's Choice 2, Dalco 1
Value
Smitty Apparel 7, Gerry Davis 6, The Official's Choice 5, Ump-Attire 4, Honig's 3, Dalco 2, Cliff Keen 1
Appearance
Gerry Davis 7, Ump-Attire 6, Smitty Apparel 5, Cliff Keen 4, Honig's 3, Dalco 2, The Official's Choice 1
Prick Test
Cliff Keen 7, Ump-Attire 6, Smitty Apparel 5, Gerry Davis 4, Honig's 3, The Official's Choice 2, Dalco 1
Wrinkle Test
Ump-Attire 7, Smitty Apparel 6, Gerry Davis 6, Dalco 4,Honig's 3, The Official's Choice 3, Cliff Keen 1
Total
1. Ump-Attire (37)
2. Smitty Apparel (36)
3. Gerry Davis (33)
4. Honig’s (28)
5. The Official’s Choice (27)
6. Cliff Keen (21)
7. Dalco (18)

CONCLUSION AND FINAL THOUGHTS
I encountered a few surprises in writing this article. As stated the first surprise was the different moisture wicking materials used in these shirts. I was also surprised by the differences in weight and breathability. Finally, I was surprised that the quality of construction was actually very similar – none of these shirts will fall apart on you.

So which is the best shirt? For me I found the answer to this question depends on the weather. The best cold weather shirt is undoubtedly the Gerry Davis Signature Shirt which is heavy, does not breathe well (a plus in cold weather), and costs only $25.90. A close second is the Ump-Attire shirt with a $32.95 price tag.

In warm to hot weather I would choose the Smitty Apparel shirt for its decent breathability, wrinkle resistance, solid marks across the board, and very low cost ($22.95). Note that the weight difference between Smitty Apparel, Honig’s, and Ump-Attire is merely one ounce.

In the dog days of August I choose The Official’s Choice shirt at under 9 ounces for its open-hole mesh design and superior breathability. It is also the cheapest shirt in the review at $19.84. When its 98 degrees, no wind, and high humidity, I’ll take the lightest and most breathable shirt I can find. The Official’s Choice is the ideal shirt for that day.

14 comments:

Anonymous said...

What an excellent and well-written article. Some excellent research, methodology and surprising results. Keep up the good work.

Dave Teater, a/k/a Majordave

Anonymous said...

Great reviews, thank you.

I wore the Honigs and Officials Choice Polo Blue shirts on the same day, and the OC was decidedly cooler. Not even close.

And I LOVE the black OC long sleeve.

Kyle

Anonymous said...

I live an hour away from one of the Honigs stores and I must say that I like them considerably more. Being a college student though, honigs charges much more as opposed to the officials choice. When it comes to quality however, in my opinion, honigs is on top. The officials choice may have great breathability in their shirts, but a really poor design. For instance, on the black, mlb powder blue, and cream shirts, the lines on the collar and sleeve cuff are much bigger than any of the other brands of umpire shirts. Second, the color is completely off in the powder blue and cream colored shirt. Trying to save money may have been a good idea at the time, but now because of they're return policy, it came back to bite me in the butt. I ordered these shirts in the beginning of January and did not receive them until the middle of february. Then, after receiving the shirts and noticing they were not proper alternatives because of the color mismatch, they would not take them back because of a return policy that states "no returns after a 30 day purchasing date." I had no choice but to keep them. So to all of those that are buying shirts, I would go with honigs, but I would absolutely not go with the officials choice.

Anonymous said...

Great review. Thanks for taking the time to put this together. Very well written and more importantly great information.

daled

Anonymous said...

very well written. You did your homework. I have been wearing plus-pos for years, and I will soon be shopping for shirts again. i am torn between the ump-attire, and teh majestic. Both are available at ump-attire. Maybe a phone call to Mr. Kirk and his staff will help solve my questions. Again great job, excellent info. My hat is off to you!!!

Anonymous said...

>>The best sports fabrics are blends of high-tech polyester and cotton<<

Patently false. You do NOT want cotton in a sports fabric. EVER. Well, OK, once. I like a semi-wet t-shirt when I'm riding a mountain bike so the air will keep me cool but other than that, no way. The lightweight 100% poly micro fiber materials are by far the best. You just have to find the best one that YOU like (fit, comfort, performance, etc.).

EFD702 said...

This is a great test, but I would have liked to have seen a test on the Majestic MLB shirts like Jim sells at ump-attire. I wear the Dalco shirts and have had no problems with them, but I am considering trying other shirts as well. Again, great job.

Anonymous said...

Cliff Keen makes the Gerry Davis shirt and performs a label service as a wholesale manufacturer. So third place and 6th place are the same to Mr. Uninformed.

Second, his first and second-place winners are dealers he buys from.

Goodbye, credibility.

Pete Reiser said...

All opinions are welcomed here.

In response to the comment concerning Cliff Keen shirts, yes, Cliff Keen makes the Gerry Davis Signature shirt (which is mentioned in the article), however the material is very different from the MXS. This is also very noticeable from the close-up pictures. Finally, the weight difference indicates that the shirts are made from different fabric.

In response to the comment implying bias, I have never in my life placed an order from either Smitty Apparel or Ump-Attire. Both appear to be fine companies and I intend to do business with them in the future. Wherever that information was obtained (perhaps pulled from the same place that commenter's head is located), it is erroneous.

Finally, Majestic was invited to participate in the comparison and they failed to reply.

Arik said...

I can concur with the Honigs shirts being ones that tend to grab onto the chest protector. I wear an older WV Gold and have to constantly pull the shirt off the velcro.

I use the ultimate ball bag that Ump-Attire just released and am definitely curious about the new ultimate shirt. cant wait to try it.

Warren said...

Great review and well worth the Umpire-Empire post of the month for March!

Warren
Umpire-Empire

BobH said...

Hey Anonymous! Anyone posting a criticism and doesn't have the guts to use a name lost his credibility long ago. Pete's not afraid to sign his name to what he writes. That carries weight with me.

Anonymous said...

the cliff keen shirt is very breathable despite what the article says....but its a ugly looking shirt when ur out there

Anonymous said...

Smitty shirts are overall the best. Not even close when u see the whole picture. Price, quality,look and durability. Second is the new Honigs umpire shirt 2011 model. Peter Reiser doesnt have to shop at some of the retailers he mentioned because he gets complimentary products to review. Lastly a survey done by umpires on this site or umpire-empire rated Smittys and Honigs 1 and 2 in best shirts and ump attire finished well behind in sixth or seventh place. And finally because someone is anonymous doesnt mean anything. Anybody can sign their comment with any name they want. Bias opinions occur all the time. The truth is in sales and numbers.Smittys and Honigs shirts the best. Ump-attire doesnt come close to those who count, the umpires that buy and where these products. To all have a great remaining season behind the dish