Friday, March 25, 2011

Umpire Uniform Primer - Part 2: Equipment

This is the second in a two-art series that discusses the basic umpire uniform. The first article looked at clothing items that are essential for the amateur umpire; this second part discusses equipment.

Traditional masks are made from steel, aluminum, magnesium, or titanium, and can vary in price depending on the material used. Typically the least expensive mask is made from steel while the most expensive mask is made from titanium. All masks will bend when impacted with enough force.

Masks are available in single- or double-bar designs. Most umpires prefer the single bar design believing that it improves visibility. Some manufacturers are flattening the bars around the eye opening to improve vision. Most traditional masks weigh less than one and a half pounds, with the lightest weighing less than one pound. A lighter mask means less strain on your neck.

The average measurements for a traditional mask  is 10" long and 9" wide. The depth and curvature of the cage varies from manufacturer to manufacturer. Some advertise a "low profile" or "new view" design where the distance from the umpire's eye to the frame has been reduced. A low profile design increases the umpire's visibility, but lessens the likelihood of deflecting a foul ball (which means more energy is transferred to your head).

Umpire masks are sold with a harness and padding. The padding can be either cloth, vinyl or leather. Some cloth pads are comfortable, moisture wicking, and are antibacterial. Vinyl is generally uncomfortable. Leather is typically preferred by veteran umpires.

Recommended brands: All-Star, Diamond, Honig's, Wilson
Hockey style helmets are styled after catcher helmets.  The main advantage of an HSH is the side protection which a traditional mask lacks. Umpires are at risk for side impacts from a batter's backswing or from turning the head.

Umpire helmets weigh between 2.5 and 3.5 pounds and the cages are made of either steel or titanium. One Wilson mask is made with special shock absorbers that are attached to the cage. Helmet pads are made of either cloth or leather. As a general rule an umpire will not wear a hat under his helmet.

Recommended brands: All-Star, Diamond, Wilson

Throat Guard
Midwest Ump recommends the use of an attached throat guard, especially for beginner umpires. While most masks and helmets are made with a throat guard extension, this guard is not sufficient to protect the throat in cases of an improper stance or flinching. Throat guards come in sizes from 4" to 6-1/2" and are made of leather, hard plastic, or steel. A properly fitted throat guard is long enough to be forced against your chest protector when impacted by the ball.

Recommended brands: Champro, Wilson

Chest Protector
Umpire chest protectors are classified into two groups: soft shell and hard shell. Soft shell protectors use foam to absorb the impact of the ball. Some soft shell protectors also incorporate plastic plates embedded in the protector. Soft shell protectors are typically less expensive that hard shell protectors, but are not recommended for play above lower youth levels. For high school and above, Midwest Ump recommends using a hard shell protector.

Hard shell chest protectors are made with plastic plates over a foam cushion for comfort. The plastic plates deflect the impact of the ball and are very effective. Hard shell protectors come in various designs, the most effective being those that use large plates. Hard shell umpire chest protectors generally offer better clavicle protection over soft shell designs.

Recommended brands: Wilson

Leg Guards
Umpire leg guards are made of hard plastic with a cushioned lining. Because the leg guards are worn under the umpire pants, some manufacturers make umpire leg guards that are a lower profile design. Unlike the concerns with a low profile mask, the hard plastic plates disburse and deflect the impact the ball and is rarely felt by the umpire.

Umpire leg guards are "strapped on" like catcher's guards. Most are held in place by straps that attach by a metal j hook or a plastic connector. Because a plastic connector can be broken by a foul ball, metal is always preferred over plastic in umpire equipment. Strap placement is a matter of personal preference with some leg guards eliminating the strap behind the knee for comfort. Many umpire leg guards are sold with metatarsal guards. Midwest Ump recommends removing this guard and wearing plate shoes. 

Recommended brands: All-Star, Diamond, Honig's, Wilson

Ball Bag / Accessories
Two manufacturers, Force3 and, sell umpire ball bags made with a waterproof lining. This is a very useful feature as the lining protects the baseballs and bag from contact with sweat from the umpire's uniform. Umpire ball bags are made of cloth and should lay flat, not bunched. Although available in several colors, black is always a safe bet. An umpire should use an indicator behind the plate. Indicators are sold in several configurations, but Strikes, balls, and Outs are essential. A good plate brush, pen, and lineup card are also essential umpire gear.

Recommended brands:, Wilson


Jeff said...

Pete, just wanted to let you know that I'm a fairly new umpire (this is my second year), and I stumbled onto your blog this winter. Your opinions have been INVALUABLE to me. I used stock (i.e. crappy and old) gear provided by the league last year, and after getting hurt for the second time (shot to the collarbone) along with sore necks from masks that felt like they weighed 20 lbs, I decided I needed to buy my own equipment.

I purchased some new equipment based on your recommendations and reviews based on quality and price (DFM-iX3, DLG-LITE shin guards, etc) and I've been very pleased with them so far. I won't be umping anything above senior Babe Ruth, so I didn't feel I needed to go hog wild with expensive purchases.

Keep up the good work, and I continue to follow your blog up here in Montana.

Pete Reiser said...


Thanks, Jeff. That means a lot! I started reviewing equipment because I needed a new shirt and had no idea what to buy. Along the way I have learned a great deal about equipment and I share what I learn on this site.

EVERY umpire needs and deserves proper equipment. It doesn't take much to break a collar bone or crush your trachea. I hope that the information provided here will prevent injuries and make umpiring a safer and more enjoyable experience.


Sam F said...

Hi, I really enjoy your blog. As a beginning umpire this year, it's been quite helpful. I even bought four shirts through Ump-Attire using one of your coupon codes.

Just wanted to mention that I'm quite impressed with the Champro shin guards that I have. They're very comfortable, pretty inexpensive relatively, and well built. In fact, I noticed that while they weren't a recommended brand in your post, they are in the picture!

Pete Reiser said...

Sam, thanks for pointing that out! The Champro Pro Plus Leg Guards are outstanding and were selected as the 2010 UMPY Award winner for best leg guards. These guards are an excellent choice for the umpire looking for a superior combination of protection, comfort and price.