Umpire Plate Shoes Buying GuideDec 27th, 2015
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 the latest being Reebok). That leaves two 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 shoes than in other umpire gear and apparel categories.
But in the world of umpire plate shoes, perhaps "two is company and three's a crowd". In other words, New Balance and 3n2 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 two brands is they feel much more comfortable than one would expect of an umpire plate shoe. The layer of cushioning that both have inside are to thank for that. The New Balance plates do seem a little bit easier to slip on than the 3n2 mid-cut.
Prefer mid-cut or low-cut? Covered.
Most feel the mid-cut, not unlike a high-top basketball shoe, offers more support. Both brands offer options in a mid-cut with New Balance being not only more popular but is the official supplier of MLB umpires. However, if you want a low-cut, 3n2 has an option (compared below with the mid-cut) whereas New Balance does not.
COLOR and look
Need all-black, a little white or a patent leather look? Covered.
If your association recommends all-black, 3n2 comes in all-black and New Balance has options for either a white "N" or black "N". New Balance also sports the MLB logo in white on the tongue. For those of you who have preferred the patent leather look, the New Balance comes closer than the two. The 3n2 has more of a matte finish. Both are made with leather. Yes, real leather.
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.
Need a wider 2E or 4E width? 3n2 offers 2E and NB offers both 2E and 4E. Covered.
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 or 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.
Both 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.
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. Both 3n2 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 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 bottommost parts beyond 4-5 inches from the front of the shoe. In other words, the shoe is not hard completely throughout. Therefore, it's important that while in your stance you position your toes as forward as possible to work with the shoes to keep you protected.
Note also, New Balance's plate cover extends slightly farther up the leg and down the flanks of the foot than the 3n2.
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 two brands and their offerings. For more information, visit each product page and read the customer reviews.
Covered in this Article
About the Author
President/CEO of Score 451 Sports, LLC and Ump-Attire.com Jim Kirk
Jim has had a passion for sports since he can remember. After playing baseball at Centre College, he worked as a high school umpire in Southeastern Kentucky - during the Elbeco shirt years - as a way to make ends meet. He became involved in E-Commerce while working on an MBA in the early 2000s and eventually bought Ump-Attire.com in 2006. Jim is proud of Ump-Attire.com's success, staff and sponsorship of various groups including Minor League Baseball Umpires, Minor League Baseball Umpire Training Academy and UMPS CARE, the charity of MLB umpires. He currently serves on their board of directors and was named their 2015 Ambassador Award recipient. Jim has also coached youth baseball many years and currently coaches middle school baseball at Christian Academy of Louisville. He lives in Louisville with his wife Lori, daughter Lydia and son Ben.