Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Review of New Balance MU460 Umpire Plate Shoe

I was sad because I had no shoes, until I met a man who had no feet. So I said, "Got any shoes you’re not using?"
― Steven Wright
Some umpires make really silly choices about their safety when working the dish. I have seen guys forgo a chest protector, shin guards, and even a cup (ouch!), but the most common protective item not worn by amateur umpires is without question the plate shoe. When asked, the reasons are that plate shoes are either too expensive or uncomfortable. Well, the former reason is just silly. The best plate shoes on the market typically hover around $100. Find a good deal, and you can get excellent plate shoes for under $60. That is a small price to pay to protect against a broken toe.

As for comfort, the new line of umpire shoes from New Balance and Reebok fit like comfortable athletic shoes! A few years ago I switched to the New Balance MU450 Plate Shoe because of its sneaker-like fit. Later I discovered the Reebok Field Magistrate Plate Shoe, which won the UMPY Award for the Umpire Shoe category in 2009, 2010, and 2011. The New Balance MU460 is even more comfortable than the Reebok Field Magistrate.

So, What’s New Pussycat?
New Balance sent me a pair of MU460 to test and review. The literature states that the MU460 Umpire Plate Shoe has:
  • Breathable mesh upper with met guard to protect the foot
  • 40% more cushioning to ensure comfort
  • 10% lighter than previous models
  • Shoe shine compatible
It is the Official on-field umpire shoe of Major League Baseball. The shoe advertises this fact on the tongue and on the heel. Fortunately the tongue logo is concealed by the pant leg and the heel logo is very small.

Appearance and Construction
The MU460 is a pretty good looking plate shoe. Years ago umpire plate shoes looked like they were designed by Herman Munster. The new generation of umpire plate shoes look good and feel great. The large metatarsal plate on the MU460 is angled toward the toe to give a sleek appearance.

The company has placed its ubiquitous logo on the side of the shoe. Honestly, after wearing New Balance MU450s and the Reebok Field Magistrate plate shoes, I'm numb to the shoe company logos. However, New Balance offers the MU460s in an optional muted logo design.

The New Balance MU460 is made from synthetic leather. It doesn't feel like leather, but I guess it looks like leather and keeps a shiny appearance. I have used both water and scrubbing bubbles on it, and so far it has cleaned up nicely. As a side note, the Reebok Field Magistrate is made from a combination of full grain leather and synthetic leather. 

The metatarsal plate is wide and provides excellent coverage. Under the metatarsal plate is a cushion that is covered with mesh fabric. The shoe's tongue and laces area uses a moisture wicking fabric with a mesh covering. The idea here is twofold: first, pull moisture away from the foot and allow it to evaporate; and second, decrease the weight of the shoe.

Fit and Comfort
The MU460 runs true to size. If you wear a size 11 medium width in a New Balance athletic shoe, order a size 11 medium width in the plate shoe. My thick socks fit comfortably in the MU460, as do thinner socks.

I have a pair of New Balance MU450 in D width size 11. The MU460 are 2E width and size 10.5. The weight of the MU450 is 27 ounces. The MU460 is 28 ounces! Let me reiterate that this is not comparing weights of the same shoe dimensions. Also note that the Reebok Field Magistrate Umpire Plate Shoe in size 11 D is 25.5 ounces.

The MU460 is a very comfortable shoe. There is a generous amount of padding in the ankle area. New Balance advertises the use of ABZORB® (a blend of Dupont™ Engage® and Isoprene rubber) in the heel and forefoot for shock absorption.

The toe box has been increased. The tight toe box was an issue in the old MU450s, so the MU460s are made with a wide and comfortable all steel toe box.

At the time of this article, I have worn the New Balance MU460s for three plate games. I have not been hit in the foot or toe while wearing this shoe. I am impressed with the metatarsal coverage and the use of the all stell toe box.

New Balance has produced two promotional videos to demonstrate the effectiveness of its shoe:

The New Balance MU460 Umpire Plate Shoe can be purchased from the following retailers:

Homerun Monkey - $109.99. An extra 10% discount can be had by using the code spring10

- $114.99

- $119.95

Fair or Foul?
There are a lot of things to like about the New Balance MU460 Umpire Plate Shoes. They are more comfortable than either the New Balance MU450s or the Reebok Field Magistrate. The MU460 also offers superior metatarsal protection, an all steel toe box, and the price is competitive to the Reebok Field Magistrate. My call is absolutely Fair!

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