Tuesday, November 30, 2010

How "Low Profile" is YOUR Mask?

A "low-profile" mask refers to the distance from your eye-balls to the mask frame eye opening. A low-profile mask fits closer than other traditional masks to your face and eyes. The idea of is that since the mask frame obstructs your vision, placing the mask closer to your face will allow a greater angle of vision without obstruction.

So if the low profile design increases your range of vision (a good thing), why doesn't every umpire wear a low-profile mask?

Some umpires complain that the lower profile may increase the likelihood of a concussion. While there is no scientific data to support this, the theory is that by lowering the mask profile, the manufacturer has flattened the mask and reduced the angles. Any piece of protective gear is based on two principles: deflection and absorption. By reducing the angles the mask has decreased the likelihood of deflecting a ball-mask impact. Instead of skipping off the mask at an angle, the ball hits with full force on the mask. That energy must go somewhere, and a great deal of it ends up being transferred to your head.

Many umpires warn of using a "low-profile" mask, but what exactly is the measurable difference between a "low-profile" design and a "regular profile?" To answer that question I am comparing five traditional masks:

All-Star FM2000UMP
Wilson Titanium WTA3009BLTI
Diamond DFM-iX3 UMP (in silver)
Champro Magnesium CM58
Wilson Chrome Moliben Alloy WTA3077

All measurements were made by placing one ruler across the mask frame and using a second ruler to measure the distance from the frame at the eye opening to the first ruler. The picture at right should make things clearer.

The Wilson 3077 is advertised as a "low-profile" (or "new view") umpire mask, so this mask is our reference point. The 3077 measures 3.25" from the eye opening to the frame. Of course, the actual distance from the wearer's eyes to the mask frame will vary, and your choice of mask padding may also alter this distance. However, the distance from the eye opening to the mask frame will not change and provides a good reference point.

Here are the results:

Wilson WTA3077 (low profile)
Wilson Titanium WTA3009BLTI
All-Star FM2000UMP 4.0"
Diamond DFM-iX3 UMP 4.0"
Champro CM58 4.5"

The difference between the "low profile / new view" Wilson WTA3077 mask and the Champro CM58 is 1.25 inches! Frankly, that surprises me. The All-Star and Diamond are intermediate distances, and the "regular view" Wilson Titanium WTA3009BLTI is also surprisingly shallow.

What this all means? Well, interpreting the data is up to the individual umpire. What is needed is independent testing that compares the attenuation of different mask shapes, materials, and padding. Until then choosing the "best mask" is merely guess work.

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