2011 was an interesting year that was marked by development and umpire comfort. Several products were introduced that will have a lasting impact on how umpires work their games. RiteTemp Athletics, an HTFx Company, introduced a cooling pad for umpires to wear under a chest protector. All Star Sports developed new pro-style leg guards and a chest protector that are receiving great reviews. And Majestic Athletics gave us an umpire cold weather coat. These and more innovative products made this year’s products exciting and interesting. It also made for some difficult decisions when selecting the winners for the 2011 Umpire Merchandise Products of the Year (U.M.P.Y. Awards).
This year’s winners are:
· Traditional Mask: Wilson Titanium WTA3009BLTI (Standard Profile)
· Helmet: All-Star System Seven MVP4000
· Chest Protector: All Star CPU4000
· Leg Guards: All Star LGU2000
· Umpire Accessory: Majestic Therma Base Umpire Jacket
· Shirt: Ump-Attire Ultimate Umpire Shirt
· Pants: Honig's Polywool Umpire Pants
· Shoe: Reebok Field Magistrate Plate Shoe
· Training Aid: Umpire-Empire.com
And the Midwest-Ump UMPY Product of the Year:
Majestic Therma Base Umpire Jacket
Congratulations to all the 2011 winners!
Traditional Mask: Wilson Titanium (WTA3009BLTI) [Standard Profile]
The Wilson Titanium (WTA3009BLTI) is not a new product. When it was featured on Midwest Ump in 2010, its review was less than glowing. The Wilson Titanium did not undergo any significant change during 2011. Why, then, is it now named Traditional Mask Product of the Year?
The Wilson Titanium has sex appeal.
Why do many prominent amateur and professional umpires choose the Wilson Titanium mask? At 23 ounces, the Wilson TI is not the lightest mask on the market (but certainly not heavy!). It is not indestructible. It is also very pricing at around $200. Some things you can’t fully explain - like why tweeners swoon at Justin Bieber’s haircut.
The Wilson A3009BLTI is made from single bar titanium, a strong and exotic material. Wilson lowered the profile of this mask and narrowed its width. The result is an excellent fit for most umpires. In addition, Wilson uses very thin 5mm single bars for superior visibility. The Wilson TI also comes with high quality leather pads. Maybe it is the combination of high quality materials and considerable price tag that is draws umpires to this mask? Whatever it is, the Wilson Titanium (WTA3009BLTI) is a “usual suspect” at Division I and professional baseball contests. Its popularity and quality makes it this year’s Midwest U.M.P.Y. winner for Traditional Mask.
Helmet: All-Star System Seven MVP4000
With no major changes, and no serious competition, there is no question that the All Star System Seven Umpire Helmet would repeat as this year’s winner in the Helmet category. It is designed for upper level baseball and rated for speeds over 100MPH.
The All Star MVP4000 weighs just over 40 ounces, and is engineered to distribute its weight evenly, so it feels much lighter. Replacing the moisture wicking pads inside the helmet is easy, so you can swap out wet pads for dry pads. The pads are machine washable. The helmet is made with a polycarbonate shell, and the cage is available in steel or titanium. Take a look at All Star's testing video below:
Some readers complain that a newly introduced product should not be considered for the UMPY Awards, especially when the product is made available after the “end of the season.” When exactly is that? In September? October? November? Some parts of the U.S. play year-round and I don’t even need to mention the southern hemisphere.
All-Star introduced its System Seven CPU4000 chest protector late in 2011, but it has already made a big impact. Many call it reminiscent of the Douglas chest protector. What is clear is it is the best new chest protector design we have seen in years.
The CPU4000 contains some innovative design features including a center channel between the umpire and the chest protector for improved air circulation. It is also impressive in its weight distribution. This protector actually weighs more than any other hard shell chest protector Midwest Ump has tested, but the fit of the CPU4000 makes it actually feel lighter than most. This is due to how the chest protector rests on the shoulders, rather than hanging from the neck and shoulders.
Midwest Ump had high praise for the All Star System Seven CPU4000 chest protector during its review. It is the 2011 UMPY Award Winner for Chest Protector.
Leg Guards: All Star LGU2000
The All Star LGU2000 Leg Guards are not light, are a bit bulky, and are expensive. Why, then, are they a 2011 UMPY Award Winner? They are OMG comfortable! With the LGU2000, you get the best of both worlds: comfort and protection.
Removable and washable pads line the interior of the LGU2000. Air vents help with circulation, and the "Patella Plus" pads are a unique design. The pad configuration cradles the knee and gives it some support. Top this off with All Star’s highly praised Delta Flex harness, and the LGU2000 are a clear winner.
Shirt: Ump-Attire Ultimate
During 2011, Honig’s introduced a new umpire shirt. It is breathable, comfortable, and looks great. The material is a closed-hole polyester that wicks away moisture. It is an excellent umpire shirt, so why isn’t it the 2011 UMPY Shirt of the year?
Because it is nearly identical to the Ump-Attire Ultimate Umpire shirt, winner of the Shirt of the year category since 2009, and top prated shirt in the Midwest Ump shirt comparison! The Ultimate sets the standard in umpire shirts, and other manufacturers are catching on. The Ultimate Umpire Shirt is wrinkle resistant, resists pricking and pilling (important when you wear a chest protector underneath), and is light-weight and breathable. It is also made in the U.S.A., an unusual feature these days. I can personally attest to the durability of these shirts. My Ump-Attire Ultimate Umpire Shirts have seen three seasons and still look new!
Others may imitate, but until Ump-Attire’s competitors produce a better product, the Ump-Attire Ultimate Umpire Shirt wins the UMPY for Shirt of the Year.
Pants: Honig's Polywools
Honig’s Polywools were the 2010 Umpire Product of the Year. They are an umpiring standard. If you want to match your partner in a great fitting and durable pair of high quality pants, then this purchase is a “no-brainer.” If you don’t care about these things, then let me introduce you to slow pitch softball and a nice pair of shorts. . .
No other pants on the market are in the class of the Honig’s Polywool pants. Modeled after the polywools used by MLB umpires, the Honig’s polywools are manufactured at the same plant – Hardwick Clothes in Cleveland, TN. Tough, durable, and good-looking, the Honig’s Polywools are the indisputable winner of the UMPY Award for the Pants of the Year.
Shoe: Reebok Field Magistrate Plate Shoe
Contrary to some opinion, the UMPY shoe category is not limited to plate shoes. Midwest Ump looks at new umpire specific shoes as well as general athletic shoes that may be used as umpire footwear. The author’s personal shoe of choice on the field is a Reebok Quag NFL Referee shoe.
We all want shoes that are safe and reliable, comfortable, and good looking, but these qualities are largely personal preference and vary from person to person. Selecting a shoe for an UMPY Award is therefore even more subjective than any other category.
For plate shoes, some umpires like New Balance, some Nautilus, and some like Spot Bilt. However, one shoe has consistently received higher praise than any other since it was introduced: the Reebok Field Magistrate Plate Shoe. Named UMPY Winner in 2009 and 2010, the Reebok Field Magistrate Plate Shoe remains relatively unchanged.
The Field Magistrate is available in mid and low cuts, and comes in white stripes, or all black for the low cut version. The comfortable interior, substantial metatarsal plate and steel toe box are winning features in this shoe.
Next year New Balance is introducing the MU460MBK plate shoe which promises to be very comfortable and protective. New Balance obtained the MLB umpire shoe contract this year, so the MU460MBK showed up on the field. Midwest Ump looks forward to reviewing this new plate shoe, but this year’s UMPY Award Winner, for the third year in a row is the Reebok Field Magistrate Plate Shoe.
Training Aid: Umpire-Empire.com
Umpire forums have been around since the early days of the internet. Umpires would converse on the Usenet Newsgroups, like rec.sport.officiating (created in 1996), and alt.sport.officiating (formed in 1993). To put things in perspective, umpires were posting on message boards at least three years before Google was created as a research project, and one year before the advent of "David and Jerry's Guide to the World Wide Web,” later renamed “Yahoo!”
By 2007, every umpire and his grandfather had access to the internet. Resources for amateur umpires existed, like the Amateur BaseballUmpires Association web site and forum, officiating.com, and the NFHS on-lineforum, now found on the Arbiter Sports site (seven threads as of this writing). Unfortunately, often the discussions degenerated into angry and disrespectful words.
On January 1, 2008, Umpire-Empire.com went on-line. It wasn’t much at first. But Warren Workman’s little project soon found a voice – a more calm and civil voice. It attracted more reasonable discussions on its boards and gained popularity because of it. Today Umpire-Empire is not only the most popular on-line umpire forum, it is also the best. Its technology has been upgraded several times since its inception, the forums are easily navigable, and the discussions are interesting.
Forums always attract the Cliff Clavin know-it-all type. Sometimes the Cliff-ies post information that is outdated, misses the point, or is just plain wrong. However, the more activity that occurs, the more likely the correct answer will (eventually) appear. That is what happens on the Umpire-Empire site. Whether it is a rules or mechanics question, an analysis of a controversial MLB umpire decision, or a discussion of umpire equipment (Midwest Ump’s personal favorite), the conversation at Umpire-Empire is always informative. Rookies and veterans discuss umpire issues without condescension or ridicule. This environment makes Umpire-Empire a great place to ask questions and learn the craft of umpiring.
Likewise, umpire equipment manufacturers and retailers have discovered Umpire-Empire as a resource to gauge interests and obtain feedback about what is important to amateur umpires. This year we witnessed All Star using umpires from the Umpire-Empire site to test new products and provide feedback.
Is Umpire-Empire the “best” training aid? For the new umpire, Umpire-Empire is an invaluable resource. For the veteran, it is a great forum to share ideas. Because of its important benefits to the umpire community, Umpire-Empire is the 2011 UMPY Award Winner in the Training Aid category.
Umpire Accessory: Majestic Therma Base Jacket
Midwest-Ump Umpire Product of the Year
Early on it was clear that the Midwest Ump Umpire Product of the Year would come from the Umpire Accessory category. The finalists in this category are spectacular and are all deserving to win Umpire Accessory of the Year:
· RiteTemp Cooling Pads
· Team Wendy mask pads
· All Star Delta Flex harness
· Majestic Therma Base Umpire Jacket
The UMPY Awards were conceived as a way to identify the best products in nine important individual categories. The “Product of the Year” essentially is a superior piece of equipment that distinguishes itself as essential or innovative. This year each finalist brought something new and interesting to the discussion, but one was the clear choice.
For the second year in a row, a clothing item has been chosen as the UMPY Product of the Year. Can you imagine how difficult this decision must have been?
The Majestic Therma Base Umpire Jacket is revolutionary. It is a fleece coat that is warm and comfortable when the temperatures are inhospitable. Many umpires must contend with inclement cold weather in the early season, so the Majestic Therma Base Jacket is a godsend. If your mother was dressing you for a cold weather umpire assignment, she would select the Majestic Therma Base Umpire Jacket to keep you warm and dry.
Cut to fit a chest protector, the Therma Base does not restrict your movements when you have the stick. While retailers and the manufacturer advise sizing down for base work (buy two!), many of us use the same jacket for plate and bases. It is water resistant and the fleece lining keeps you warm in snow, sleet, or freezing rain.
The UMPY Product of the Year is meant to honor the piece of gear that makes life better or safer or easier for the umpire. The Majestic Therma Base Umpire Jacket makes life bearable during the early season. It is the 2011 UMPY Product of the Year.
This year we are fortunate that we can recognize products that are helping the umpire work safer and better. Midwest Ump remains a strong supporter of manufacturers that are innovative and responsive to the safety and comfort of umpires. This year’s Award Winners do exactly that – they work to provide excellent products that umpires need and want.
Many new and exciting products are promised for next year, including the New Balance MU460MBK and Ump-Attire’s new polywool umpire pants promised to debut in early 2012. If next year is as interesting as this year, Midwest Ump will have many reviews and opinions to share. To umpires everywhere, Midwest Ump wishes health to you and your family in 2012, and “Don’t Suck!”