Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Best Umpire Equipment, Apparel and Training Aids of 2009

Midwest Ump is pleased to announce its selections for the first annual Umpire Merchandise Products of the Year (U.M.P.Y.) Awards. UMPY Awards are given annually for the best umpire equipment, apparel, and training aids, and is determined by both the reputation of the product in the umpire community, and by Midwest Ump testing and review.

This year the UMPY Awards are given in the following categories:

  • Traditional Mask
  • Helmet
  • Chest Protector
  • Leg Guards
  • Accessory
  • Shirt
  • Pants
  • Shoes
  • Training Aid
One overall winner as Product of the Year is also chosen. The following products have been chosen as the 2009 Umpire Merchandise Products of the Year:

Traditional Mask
Winner: Champro FM-58 PRO-PLUS Gold Super-Xtreme Lightweight Face Mask

The traditional mask category is dominated by feather-weight masks under 1.5 pounds. During 2009, Midwest Ump was able to field test different feather-weight masks made of steel, titanium, and magnesium from Wilson, Diamond, Champro, and All-Star. While all of the masks performed exceptionally well, one mask emerged as the clear choice.

The FM-58 PRO-PLUS Gold Super-Xtreme Lightweight Face Mask is made of a magnesium alloy with a high strength-to-weight ratio. The FM-58 weighs 15.5 ounces with the manufacturer's pads, harness, and without a throat guard - less than one pound! This was the lightest mask tested by Midwest Ump during 2009. In comparison, the highly regarded Diamond DFM-UMP Umpire Mask in Silver made of aircraft aluminum weighs 17 ounces.

Just as impressive as its weight is the FM-58's durability. Our test mask was game-used during high-school, semi-pro, and college baseball and softball games and has not dented or scratched. This mask looks good-as-new even after a long season of use.

The price as-tested for the FM-58 is $125.00 and is available from The Official Call (with free shipping if you mention the Midwest Ump review article when ordering). That price is cheaper than the Wilson Titanium mask (retailing around $200), but more expensive than the Diamond DFM-UMP Umpire Mask in Silver (retailing around $70).

Chest Protector
Winner: Wilson West Vest Platinum Chest Protector

Selecting a winner in this category came down to a choice between the Wilson West Vest Gold and the Wilson West Vest Platinum. Both chest protectors are outstanding, and each has a loyal following.

For some, the choice is easy. The Gold is available in smaller sizes for our more slender umpire brethren. Unfortunately for most of us, "slender" is still a few cases of light beer away. So until then, the Wilson West Vest Platinum chest protector is a better choice because it has better sternum protection, increased airflow between the chest protector and your undershirt (to aid the sweat evaporation process), and less padding. The Wilson West Vest Platinum is also very easy to clean.

The Wilson West Vest Platinum is widely available and cheaper than the Gold. Ump-Attire sells the Platinum for $144.99; and Lester's Upstate Sports sells the Platinum for $145.99.

Leg Guards
Winner: Gerry Davis DaviShins

The Gerry Davis DaviShins Leg Guards use a unique dual strap system to provide the most comfortable fit of any umpire leg guards. The two straps are strategically placed and avoids any irritation behind the knee. The knee cap is a recessed, no gap design that provides adequate coverage.

The DaviShins have a three velcro mounted ankle guards at the top and sides to provide customized protection depending on your plate shoes. The DaviShins are available from Gerry Davis for $79.90 in either 15” or 17.5” length.

Winner (Tie): Ump-Attire Ultimate Ball Bag

An UMPY Award for a ball bag? Seriously?

Well, the lowly ball bag has finally hit the big time with The Ump-Attire Ultimate Ball Bag. Its quality construction and unique features make this ball bag deserving of recognition and praise.

The Ultimate Ball Bag features a zippered utility pocket in the back of the bag. The pocket is very roomy and convenient for storing an extra car key, cash, or other small valuables. There are three interior pockets: a pen pocket, a roomy brush pocket, and a lineup card pocket.

The Ump-Attire Ultimate Ball Bag is constructed from a durable twill fabric, uses double stitching for added durability, and has a nylon interior on the pant side to prevent the transfer of moisture. “Handmade by Amish craftsmen in Kentucky, U.S.A.,” the Ultimate Ball Bag is available exclusively from Ump-Attire in black, gray, or navy for $17.99. Congratulations to Jim Kirk and Ump-Attire for designing a terrific product!

Winner (Tie): Nutty Buddy

We have to wonder how many times ex-MLB pitcher Mark Littell has stood in front of a pitching machine wearing nuthin' but a jock and a Nutty Buddy? He must be either crazy or extremely confident in his Nutty Buddy design!

It turns out he has good reason to be confident in the Nutty Buddy as its design is a huge leap forward in umpire safety. The story goes that Mark Littell was working with Kansas City Royals pitchers in spring training and discovered that many did not wear a protective cup because it was uncomfortable. Littell set out to design a more comfortable cup, and in the process, also developed a safer cup!

The design is anatomically correct and floats comfortably between an athletic supporter and compression shorts. The Nutty Buddy transfers the force of an impact to the pubic bone and away from your, er, "boys." Below is a video segment on the Nutty Buddy from the Fox Sports Science television show:

The Nutty Buddy is available from Nutty Buddy and prices start at $29.95. The boys will thank you.

Winner: Ump-Attire Ultimate Umpire Shirt

The top rated shirt in the 2009 Midwest Ump Umpire Shirt Comparison Review article was the Ump-Attire Ultimate Umpire Shirt. The Umpire Shirt Comparison Review article compared shirts from Ump-Attire, Smitty Apparel, Gerry Davis, Honig’s, The Official’s Choice, Cliff Keen, and Dalco in seven categories: weight, breathability, construction, value, appearance, prick test, and wrinkle test. The Ump-Attire ultimate umpire Shirt placed in the top three of five of these categories.

The Ump-Attire Ultimate Umpire Shirt also performed very well over the 2009 season. Its durability is directly attributed to its quality construction. The Ump-Attire Ultimate Umpire Shirt is available through Ump-Attire for $32.99.

Winner: Honig's Poly Wool Pants

The October, 2009, Midwest Ump review of Honig's Poly Wool Pants called them the "Cadillac of Pants." The Poly Wools may look like Sunday-go-to-meetin' dress pants, but they are made for rigors of umpiring. These pants are made by umpires, for umpires: good-looking and tough as nails. Constructed from a heavyweight polyester and wool blend, the Poly Wools feature a reinforced knee, saddle stitching, and a "Snug-fit" waistband to keep your shirt tucked.

Honig's Poly Wool Pants are sold by Honig's for $73.95, and are only offered in charcoal grey.

Winner: Reebok Field Magistrate Plate Shoes

It is really gratifying when a corporation as large as Reebok listens to the consumers. In June Midwest Ump reviewed the Reebok Field Magistrate Plate Shoe. The article concluded that "Once Reebok reigns in their self-promotion and eliminates the white logos, they can claim to have the ultimate umpire plate shoe."

Reebok has recently announced that an all black version of this shoe will be offered in 2010.

The Field Magistrate provides excellent ankle support and shin guards can fit comfortably over the tongue of the mid cut shoe (also available in low cut). This shoe is unquestionably more comfortable than the New Balance MU450, and the moisture wicking Play Dry lining is very soft. The Field Magistrate is also lighter than the New Balance MU450 and sports a turf sole for greater traction.

There is no debate; the Reebok Field Magistrate is the ultimate plate shoe on the market. Available from:

Training Aid
Winner: UmpireTeacher.com

The future of umpire training is on-line, and UmpireTeacher.com is the first to deliver with its on-line umpire school. UmpireTeacher.com uses video and discussion boards as training devices, much like on-line university classes - but without the pop quizzes!

Mike "Bugsy" Segal has assembled a highly respected team of instructors including former MLB umpire Vic Voltaggio and college umpire Frank Leparik, who actively participate and interact with "students" on the site. The student can discuss a unique situation or a rules issue, or view an umpire mechanics video and get feedback from one or more experienced umpires. The site's atmosphere is also casual and friendly.

The best thing about UmpireTeacher.com is that it is accessible 24-hours a day, 365 days a year, from anywhere in the world! Many umpires live in remote parts of the country (or the world!) and are unable to attend formal umpire training. For many, watching professional umpires on tv or amateur bloopers on YouTube is as close as it gets to umpire training. Now umpires everywhere, anytime can receive quality instruction. This is a major advancement in umpire training and UmpireTeacher.com and Mike Segal deserve to receive recognition and high praise for this innovation.

Membership on UmpireTeacher.com site starts at $9.99 per month, and offers a Free Ten Day Trial.

Winner: Wilson Shock 2.0 FX Titanium Umpire Helmet
Winner: 2009 Umpire Merchandise Product of the Year

The last words in the Midwest Ump review of the Wilson Shock 2.0 FX Titanium Umpire Helmet says it all:

The Bottom Line
The simple fact that Wilson has made it a priority to improve umpire safety rates this product an absolute ten. While a hockey helmet will not protect from every kid of impact, a helmet offers side protection that a traditional mask lacks, and the Wilson Shock FX provides shock absorption that will help prevent concussions from impacts to the cage. The Shock FX offers a blend of comfort and protection that really is first rate.

Umpire safety and concussion prevention is the most important purpose of an umpire mask or helmet. Since Major League catcher Charlie O'Brien introduced the hockey style helmet to baseball in 1997, there have been very few changes from the original design.

Now Wilson has taken the next step in improving umpire safety. The Shock FX 2.0 uses six isolators to diffuse the energy from an impact to the cage. Wilson claims that the helmet reduces "impact forces to the head by up to 50% in a 60-inch direct impact drop test, when compared to a traditional helmet."

Wilson has also been very receptive to the feedback from umpires. Although the Shock FX was only recently released, the new and improved Shock FX 2.0 has now hit the shelves. Most important, this new model has strengthened the pistons and improved the vision through the cage (by moving the cage closer to the face).

For its safety improvements and attention to the needs of the umpire community, Wilson's Shock 2.0 FX Titanium Umpire Helmet is chosen as Midwest Ump's 2009 Umpire Merchandise Product of the Year.

The 2010 Wilson Shock FX 2.0 Titanium Umpire Helmet is currently offered by Ump-Attire for $219.95 (pre-ordering).

Final Word
2009 was an exciting year and saw major improvements in umpire equipment, apparel and training aids. The next year promises new and innovative products and Midwest Ump will continue to deliver the news and the reviews to the umpire community. Congratulations to all of the winners of the 2009 Umpire Merchandise Products of the Year.


Anonymous said...

I know there are some umpires especially those who work softball that need an all black shoe. sossports.com has the Reebok Magistrate plate AND field shoe in all black. This is important for those wanting work post-season NCAA. The SUIP requires an all black shoe.

Anonymous said...

Also found the all black on Ump-attire.com.

BobH said...

Thanks for this. Would love to see reviews of umpire jackets, too!

Anonymous said...

as a rookie umpire this year, this was an excellent review. Thank you!

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