Saturday, November 19, 2011

Review of All-Star System Seven Umpire Chest Protector (CPU4000)

Wilson Sporting Goods has dominated the umpire equipment market for years. The chief reason for this is their hard shell chest protector, patented by MLB Umpire Joe West. The West Vest design is basically hard plastic plates over soft foam padding. The plates deflect the baseball’s impact energy, while the foam lining is mostly for comfort. This design has been tweaked over the years to provide excellent comfort and protection.

Wilson and Joe West have been able to maintain “king of the hill” status by challenging similarly designed chest protectors as infringing upon the West Vest patent. A few companies have been forced to quit manufacturing their chest protectors due to close similarity with the Wilson products, most notably Douglas and Champion.

The All Star System Seven Umpire Chest Protector is the first legitimate challenge in years to the Wilson line-up of professional chest protectors. All-Star has been aggressively pursuing the amateur umpire dollars through product testing and development. All Star used a team of amateur umpires across the country to provide input during the development of the CPU 4000.

The first thing All Star did right was make this CP all black.  Light colors can bleed through an open hole umpire shirt and be an unsightly distraction. All Star places one simple white logo on the front of the CPU4000. It is strategically placed to be constantly visible while wearing a plate coat.

The design is atypical for a hard shell CP. 4mm plastic plates are used, but what makes this CP unusual are the two layers of foam pads under the plates. The total thickness at the base of the chest protector is 1-1/16”, very average for a hard shell CP, and creates a low-profile appearance under the umpire’s shirt. The padding is tapered so that less padding is used at the shoulder area. The All Star plates and padding measures only ¾ inch at the neck opening.

There are 42 shiny stainless steel rivets that that are described as “rust proof.” Well, “rust proof” just means “rust resistant” and will rust over time. I recommend sealing these rivets with clear, silver, or black fingernail polish. The fingernail polish will also reduce the shine and will make the rivets less noticeable under your umpire shirt.

The CP4000 uses plastic buckles to connect the harness to the chest protector. The buckles are permanently attached with stitching and a rivet, making replacement very difficult. The buckle is one foul ball away from making the CP4000 worthless. A metal t-hook attachment, like used in Wilson CPs, is vastly superior. 

The All Star System Seven Umpire Chest Protector hangs from the shoulders due to its pre-curved shoulder plate design. This is a prominent design feature of the Douglas CP, and provides a move comfortable and custom fit. It also is effective at preventing chest protector sag. An umpire pushing up his CP during a ball game is as uncomely as a woman adjusting her bra.

At three pounds, eleven ounces, this CP is by far the heaviest Midwest Ump has tested. However, the curved shoulders distribute the weight much better than many other chest protectors, so the All Star does not seem as heavy.

All Star uses its specially designed DeltaFlex harness on the CPU4000. The DeltaFlex has four adjustable points. A soft neoprene center triangle connects the harness straps and evenly distributes the weight and pressure.

As stated earlier, two layers of padding are used for comfort. The first pad is riveted directly to the plates. This is likely to avoid patent infringement with the Wilson design, which is the direction Champion had to proceed. The permanently attached padding means that it cannot be separated for cleaning.

The second layer of padding is attached to the first layer by Velcro. It is fully adjustable and washable. The second layer foam feels like Brock Beads, a foam that is used in the Schutt AiR Flex CP. I am unable to confirm the foam product used, and was unable to inspect because this CP is a loaner from Jim Kirk at Ump-Attire (thanks, Jim! Without your assistance, this review would not have been possible). The padding is treated with Aegis Microbe Shield, so it doesn’t funk up on you.

The second layer of padding is separated by a wide (3”, but adjustable) center channel that runs the length of the protector. This channel is approximately ¾” deep and is meant to increase air circulation and keep you cooler. What an innovative design!

The neck opening on the All Star System Seven Umpire Chest Protector is narrow. Add to this the close placement of the plastic plates, and this is a recipe for irritation. Some umpires have reported that the neck opening rubs during wear. The neck opening can be adjusted somewhat, but this is a common complaint with the All Star System Seven Umpire Chest Protector.

The shoulder pad placement is restrictive and cannot be adjusted. This makes throwing the ball back to the pitcher a nuisance.

The efficacy of a hard shell protector depends on the placement and size of its plates. The All Star System Seven Umpire Chest Protector gets it right. The All Star uses large 4mm plates that are attached together to work in tandem and distribute the impact of a baseball. The shoulder plates overlap a large center plate which runs down the center of the chest protector. This center plate overlaps two smaller (but still large) plates that protect the mid-section.  Small oblique plates are not attached to the larger plates. The end result of this design is a chest protector that offers outstanding protection.

As discussed above, the neck opening is narrow. The plastic plates are pushed up around the umpire’s neck to provide superior sternum and clavicle protection. The shoulder area is also bullet-proof with two shoulder caps. Unlike other shoulder cap designs, these two caps are not bulky.

The CPU4000 is available in two lengths: 12 Inch and 15 Inch. Midwest Ump tested the small 12 inch length. I have a longer torso, and the 12 inch length covered my ribs. The advertising is that the 12” model will cover your rib cage like a 13”, and I can confirm this.

The All Star System Seven Umpire Chest Protector (CPU4000) has been recently released, and is currently offered by the following on-line retailers:

Baseball Plus - $124.95 plus free shipping (back ordered until mid-January)

Ump-Attire - $154.99

Better Baseball - $149.95

Fair or Foul?
The All Star System Seven Umpire Chest Protector is absolutely FAIR! But is it a home run? Some umpires say yes, some say no, but we all agree that the All-Star System Seven Umpire Chest Protector (CPU4000) is definitely a “ball to the wall,” and every umpires should “go out on” this product to make the call.

The All Star CPU4000 is very comfortable, breathable, offers superior protection, and incorporates innovative design features. All Star has made a wining umpire chest protector!


Brandon said...

Great review, Pete!

Now will you kindly review their new System 7 Shin Guards?

I'm in the market for some and I'm not sure if I should bite.


Pete Reiser said...

The Shin Guards are next. Thanks for reading!


Anonymous said...

the all star cpu4000 is very friend got one and i tried it on the other day. he got the 15inch and it is very heavy..we weighed it and it was four pounds one ounce . i think the 12 inch is thre pounds eleven ounces.. it is a bit bulky..for the money i dont think its worth it. has to be tested on the field by other umpires..once again it is a nice looking chest protector but it is heavy very heavy.. and the leg guards too are very heavy.. i see some suppliers are selling them 30 dollars less then jim at UA

Kyle said...

I'm going to standby for the carbon fiber version, if they ever make it. It's got to outperform my Platinum in protection and weight first.

I actually like the plastic buckles on the side, as opposed to the metal contraptions in front. A good luggage repair shop can fix a busted one, or military supply shops have buckles with slots in them to slide in those loops. So a broken buckle is not a death sentance.

Arik said...

Its nice to see the price comparisons for some of the companies. I just found out about it through the new Honigs catalog but you need to call them for the price.

I have been thinking of a replacement for my WV Gold. Its pretty much the same price point.

John Paul said...

I was going to purchase one from Baseball Plus but the price now is $ 149.95 not $ 124.95.

Did not buy.

Arik said...

Got a System7 and a new WV Gold from Ump-Attire earlier this week. I figured I had to at least give it a try against the WV which I have had for over 10 years.

I too found the S7 to be very comfortable while wearing it and the Delta-Flex harness that it comes with is second to none. I did like the slim fit of the front of the CP. I also did not have any issues with the neck area being to tight. So that was good.

Sadly, this was not enough for me to keep it and send back the Gold. I was not happy with how the shoulders sat on my body. Even after adjusting both the straps and the padding I still looked like Herman Munster and that I had no neck. I am 5'10" tall so I am not short by any means but I didnt like the idea of the look of my head sitting directly on top of my shoulders. Also I had a small issue with the "cooling channel" that runs down the middle of the CP. When my wife decided to have some fun with my new CPs and tried to hit me in the chest with her fist I felt like I felt to much pressure from the contact for what should be something I should barely feel at all (which is what happened when she did the same thing wearing the Gold).

It was these things that made me decide to sent the System7 back and keep the Gold. I was really hoping to make the switch but alas I will stick with what I know.

On the upside, after the recommendations of friend from the umpire forums, I have ordered a Delta-Flex harness and will be placing that on my new WV. Good to know something good came out of this trial for a CP I had high hopes for but unfortunately feel quite short.