Umpire Plate Shoes Buying GuideSep 25th, 2019
What are the best umpire plate shoes?
Take running shoes. How many brands can you name? I thought of 6 before I even began to think.
Now what about umpire plate shoe brands? If you are a veteran umpire, you can likely name more umpire shoe brands that are no longer being made (Spot-Bilt, Pentagon, Honig's, Davis, Pluspos and Reebok). That leaves three brands:
The reason there are many more running shoe brands than umpire shoe brands is that there are many more runners than umpires. Compare that to the number of shirt colors and styles an umpire needs in his closet and you just can't compete with the math. The result is there are fewer options in plate shoes than in other umpire gear and apparel categories.
New Balance, 3n2 and Smitty cover the bases on what you need in the standpoints of style, selection and sizing - at least in most cases.
Looking for comfort? Covered.
What strikes umpires more than anything about the three brands is they feel much more comfortable than one would expect of an umpire plate shoe. The layer of cushioning that each have inside are to thank for that. The New Balance and Smitty plates do seem a little bit easier to slip on than 3n2.
Most feel the mid-cut, not unlike a high-top basketball shoe, offers more support. New Balance and 3n2 offer options in a mid-cut and a low-cut.
Smitty currently offers their plate shoes in mid-cut only.
COLOR and look
Need all-black, a little white or a patent leather look? Covered.
If your association recommends all-black, all three brands offer all-black.
New Balance has an option with a white "N" and MLB logo in white on the tongue. For those of you who have preferred the patent leather look, the New Balance has a high-gloss shine that some have mistaken for patent leather (it's not).
Sizes are little less optimal than they used to be. Length-wise, 3n2 starts at size 6. New Balance has curtailed its size options, now starting at size 8. Both extend to size 15. Smitty also manufactures their plate shoes in sizes 8 to 15.
Need a wider 2E or 4E width? Covered.
3n2 offers 2E and NB offers both 2E and 4E. Smitty only offers standard D width, but is a generous fit.
Can you tell which shoe below is D, 2E or 4E? They are actually in order, left to right. The width differences are slighter than you'd think.
Fit is one of the most common concerns, but one shouldn't fear. Knowing that umpire plate shoes won't give as much as of a running or cross-training shoe, both manufacturers offer a little more room in the toe-box and instep. Still, some prefer to size up in length or width. Definitely, if you are in-between a size, size up. In-between a width, go up a width. A little-too-big is much preferred over a little-too-small in all shoes, but especially umpire plate shoes.
Note that even though there is rigidity in the front, one can still tigthen up either shoe to the level desired, just like a high-top shoe.
See additional plate sizing and fit tips.
All brands shoes are lightweight, especially compared to the umpire plate shoes of old. Comparing D width size 11s in mid-cuts, 3n2 is lighter at 1 pound. New Balance is 1.4 pounds. Smitty is 1.9 pounds.
How can umpire plate shoes weigh so little? In an attempt to decrease the weights of umpire shoes, manufacturers began changing steel toes with composite materials several years ago. Therefore, the "plate" in plate shoes is short for "home plate", not "steel plate".
If in your occupation, you sit or walk or run, then heel height is not a concern. However, umpires need a heel that is higher than normal due to their constant bending. In other, words, umpires need a heel height that is higher than normal shoes to take more pressure off the lower extermities. 3n2, Smitty and NB plate shoes have a heel height that is roughly 1" (inch) higher than non-umpire shoes.
(Below is a comparison of heel height between a running shoe and a plate shoe. Compare the top of rhw standing markers inside each shoe and see that the marker in the plate shoe rises higher.)
Besides the mention that manufacturers no longer are making a steel plate toe, one must also know that the entire foot is not protected on any umpire plate shoe. It's much like a batter's helmet in that the head is protected but not the front of the face.
With plate shoes, in general, there is protection in the toe box from the toe and on top of the foot from the cover. The foot does not have a hard covering at the beyond 4-5 inches from the front of the shoe above the sole. In other words, the shoe is not hard completely throughout. Therefore, it is key that you position your toes as forward as possible. This allows you to work with your shoes to maximize your protection.
Note also, New Balance's plate cover extends slightly farther up the leg and down the flanks of the foot than the 3n2 and Smitty.
New Balance offers a multi-directional sole whereas 3n2 offers a nubby bottom. Both should work well on dirt or grass in dry to conditions up to the point it's so wet you should call it anyway.
Hope that helps you understand the difference between the three brands and their offerings. For more information, visit each product page and read the customer reviews.
About the Author
President Jim Kirk
Jim is a leading expert, educator and author on umpire gear, safety & appearance. After playing baseball at Centre College, he worked as a high school umpire. He became involved in E-Commerce while working on an MBA in the early 2000s and bought Ump-Attire.com in 2006, He eventually led it to the leading umpire gear & attire retailer worldwide and a “Best Places to Work in Louisville” honor in 2020 & 2021. He maintains long-standing relationships with Minor League Baseball Umpire Development & Training Academy and the National Association of Sports Officials (NASO). He serves as an adviser to UMPS CARE Charities, the charity of MLB umpires, served as a 2-term board of director from 2012-2018, and was named their 2015 Ambassador Award recipient. A supporter since the inception of the Wounded Warrior Umpire Academy, he was named to their Board of Directors in 2020.