At nearly $250 a pop retail, we wondered "Will umpires pay a premium for a helmet with such advanced features?" The answer was a resounding "Yes!".
HIGHLY REVIEWED BEST SELLER
Indeed, the Wilson Shock FX Umpire Helmet became our best selling helmet in 2009 - despite its price being over 3 times that of our less expensive model. In addition, it became highly regarded as indicated by customers' writing the most extensive glowing reviews of any product we've ever sold.
Despite the improvements in technology, the Shock FX reputation has been shook slightly this year by a few things. First of all, MLB umpires Ed Hickox and Kerwin Danley received concussions in the same weekend while wearing the Shock FX bringing some attention that although this umpire helmet perhaps lessened their injuries - especially in Danley's case as it was a bat to the back of the head where a traditional mask protects none at all - it did prove that even the Shock FX is not completely foolproof or indestructible.
Secondly, reports surfaced of a few helmets with problems such as shock absorbers "popping out" and cracked shells in the chin area on both umpire and catcher style Shock FXs. It is worth noting we heard more of these reports than we actually saw of them. At Ump-Attire.com, we only had one helmet returned with a crack and only one returned with a shock absorber issue this year with none in previous years.
MEETING WITH WILSON
I had the privilege to sit down with Patrick Udelhofen, Senior Engineer of Team Sports at Wilson, at their Chicago headquarters to discuss extensively umpire safety, the Shock FX umpire issues mentioned above and improvements incorporated in the next generation Shock FX model, the 2.0, due out later this month.
DEBUNKING MASK AND HELMET MYTHS
Patrick echoed what we've all been talking about for some time now:
- There is no umpire helmet or mask that can protect an umpire completely.
- There is no such mask or helmet available that is impervious to a bending frame, cracked shell or other. Such results to the massive amount of force a baseball or softball can cause do not necessarily reflect an equipment flaw or defect.
- Although more protective overall, not every part of a hockey style helmet protects better than every part of a traditional mask (think flatter middle of helmet as in Hickox's case and the Kettering study that, although flawed, did bring some of these differences to light).
- Not all hockey style helmets protect in the same manner as indicated by differences in amounts and type of padding and how closely frames are screwed directly onto shells as most traditional hockey style helmets have been; this in comparison to the "floating style" frame on the Shock FX, a second generation hockey style umpire helmet.
So what about these issues with shock absorbers breaking or popping out? Wilson and Patrick found that most of the issues experienced, especially by catchers (where umpires reported seeing them), were due to helmets being thrown and hitting the ground (think catcher going for a pop up and slinging the helmet or just carelessness, say throwing it in the trunk of a car after the game), and not necessarily from the force of a thrown or tipped ball as one would initially imagine.
The shock absorbers were not built with the above abuse in mind. Actually, the Shock FX helmet was designed initially for only umpires' use, and only later did Wilson start making them for catchers.
The Shock FX's shock absorbers were built, however, to withstand force from a pitched or tipped ball at a more direct "head-on" angle. Because of this, however, there were a few limited occurrences - the umpire style of the Shock FX included - where problems were experienced when force occurred at a more upward or from a side angle.
SHOCK FX 2.0 IMPROVEMENTS (see images below)
Patrick was glad to discuss the multiple improvements to an already great item. The enhancements emphasize preventing issues discussed above, greater visibility and limited added protection as follows:
- Dramatically redesigned the titanium cage in 4 places areas that focused on covering the ABS shell in spots vulnerable to cracking, especially in the chin area
- Increased the welds on the titanium frame for strength and added durability
- Added strength to shock absorbers to prevent problems caused by side to side or other angled impacts
- Tweaked eye opening and moved the frame closer inward to provide even greater visibility
- Made helmet 1 inch longer to bottom front to provide additional protection
In the meantime, let us know what you think about the improvements.