Monday, March 21, 2011

Umpire Uniform Primer - Part 1: Clothing

Today Midwest Ump starts a two-part series that discusses the basic umpire uniform. This first article looks at clothing items that are essential for the amateur umpire; the second part will discuss equipment.

To the casual observer the umpire's uniform seems simple enough: blue polo shirt, gray pants, black shoes. On closer inspection all of the clothing items have been altered or tailored to the umpire's needs. This is first discovered when you pick out a hat. Umpire hats are not only available in adjustable and fitted hat sizes, they are also made in different lengths. The lengths are described by the rows of stitching on the bill of the hat: 4, 6, or 8 stitch.

A 4 stitch hat has four rows of stitching and a 2" bill. This hat is used for plate work. The shorter bill makes it easier for the umpire to remove his mask without pulling the hat off. A 6 stitch hat has six rows of stitching and a 2.5" bill. This hat is called a "combo hat" because it can be used on the plate or on the bases. The shorter bill is more manageable for plate work and can also be used in the field. An 8 stitch hat has eight rows of stitching and a 2.75" bill. This hat is used in the field. The 8 stitch hat is just like a standard baseball hat.

Recommended brands: Richardson and New Era.

An umpire shirt is cut larger to accommodate a chest protector. Many umpires use the same shirt for plate and base work, however some prefer to use a smaller size shirt on the bases and a larger size on the plate. Umpire shirts generally have piping along the collar and the sleeves. It is important to match your partner in color and shirt piping, so talk with your assigner and/or partner before your game to determine the correct shirt. There are nine common umpire shirt combinations, and new colors are constantly introduced to the market. Some associations require patches or a logo embroidered shirts, so be sure to ask.

Umpire shirts are made from a polyester mesh in either an open hole or closed hole design. As the name indicates, you can see through the open hole design which means the color of your chest protector or any writing will bleed through.

Recommended brands: Ump-Attire, Honig's, or Smitty. The Official's Choice is also a popular brand, but do your research before you buy.

The color of the undershirt also varies from area to area, association to association. The color of the undershirt is always a color on the shirt. However, some associations state that the undershirt is the last color of the shirt piping. White, black, and navy blue are the most common undershirt colors.

Recommended brands: Champion C9, Diamond Hotsport.

Baseball is played in the summer sunshine, right? If you're lucky. Sometimes baseball is played in rain, wind, snow, hail, and sleet. When its cold or wet, a jacket is an essential piece of equipment. Like umpire shirts, umpire jackets are cut larger to fit a chest protector. The most common types are pull-over jackets that either tuck into your pants or have a ribbing at the bottom.

Recommended brands: Honig's, Smitty.

Umpire pants are available in three styles: base, plate or combo. Umpire pants are always hemmed straight, to prevent dirt from collecting in your cuff. Umpire pants also have larger belt loops to take an umpire belt (see below). Umpire pants come in two colors of gray: heather and charcoal. While the differences in heather gray is not very noticeable, charcoal gray can vary between manufacturers. It is important to know the color and brand used in your area. 

Base pants are not much different than a regular pair of dress pants. Plate pants are made with a wide leg for your leg guards, saddle stitching in the seat to prevent seam splitting, and reinforcements at the knee. Most umpire pants come with a double clasp and a grip material in the waistband to keep your shirt tucked. Combo pants are plate pants, only cut slimmer. The idea is that this slimmer cut can be used for both plate and base work. Some umpires find that they need the slimmer cut for plate work. While combo pants may look a little large on the bases, these pants could be a good option for a new umpire on a tight budget.

Recommended brands: Honig's, Smitty, Gerry Davis

An umpire's belt is black garrison belt, also used by law enforcement, fire, and postal workers. An umpire uses a garrison belt to support the weight of three or more baseballs in the ball bag. The belt is either 1-1/2" or 1-3/4" wide. If you choose a patent leather belt, make sure you also choose patent leather shoes.

Recommended brands: Postal Store

Black. Some manufacturers like Jim Evans and Thorlo make socks with a reinforced toe, heel and other padding to help eliminate plate shoe irritation.

Recommended brands: Jim Evans Force3

Yes, really. Many umpires wear tights to protect their legs from leg guard irritation. The tights will also wick away perspiration and keep you comfortable. Other umpires elect to wear tall socks and compression shorts. McDavid makes a hex pad protector that doubles as a compression short and a little protection on your thigh.

Recommended brands: Nike, Under Armor, McDavid

Most umpires use an athletic shoe with a turf sole on the bases. Solid black is preferred, but many manufactures incorporate a white logo, which is also permitted for use. I highly recommend umpire plate shoes. These shoes have either a steel or composite toe and a metatarsal guard. While many leg guards are sold with attached foot guards, these will not protect your entire foot (and they look silly on a plate umpire). Today's plate shoe is not as bulky, is comfortable, and is not much different than wearing an athletic shoe.

Recommended brands: Reebok, New Balance

In the next article I will discuss umpire equipment including chest protector, shin guards, cup, ball bag and contents, and optional accessories.

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