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MadMax

A Few Ways to Wright a Wrong

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The Wilson Shock FX may be entering its waning days. With the market success by the All-Star System 7 hockey style mask, and the follow-on effort of Easton to produce the Mako and M-line of shaped masks, Rawlings and Wilson are now forced to reformulate their own lineup. Rawlings significantly (and finally) updated their HSMs, starting with the Pro Preferred. Wilson continued on with their Shock FX, but its clunky shape, relatively complex spring-suspension, and Wilson's unsympathetic customer service, it saw only limited use in the High School and College ranks in comparison to the All-Stars and Eastons. No Major League catchers used it, and only a handful of Major League Umpires ever did (Gary Cederstrom, famously).

Instead of trying to improve it, Wilson has instead developed an all-new, shaped WTA5700 Pro Stock hockey style mask in the hopes its looks and price point will gain the attention of high school and college programs. That's not to say that the Shock FX is, or ever was, an inferior model; it is more to say that Wilson abandoned it and chose not to further develop or improve it, or even to support existing models.

It is this last point that's got my attention. I recently received a Shock FX in decent, but used, shape. The primary pads (forehead and chin) were completely worn out, every vent hole was dirty with the dust of hundreds of games in the desert heat, and the cage had a pair of pretty significant dents to it. Besides this, the cage's paint job (when will companies learn that paint doesn't "stick" to steel??) has flaked off, and the beginnings of rust are taking hold. So, I stripped all the parts off it, cleaned everything, sanitized the inner pads of the shell, changed out the primary pads for a brand new kit, and soaked all hardware in mineral oil to recondition them (they will be thoroughly dried before I put them back). Of major note, though, is I will be sending the cage off to Tony at Mask-It to have the dents knocked back out, the cage re-trued, and then powder coated a spiffy new color. When the cage returns, remount it with the reconditioned hardware and voilá, we'll have a Shock FX, back to good-as-new.

So... why can't Wilson take care of their gear like this, or, in lieu of that, allow us to buy parts (replacement cages) so as to do it ourselves??

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4 hours ago, MadMax said:

So... why can't Wilson take care of their gear like this, or, in lieu of that, allow us to buy parts (replacement cages) so as to do it ourselves??

Because *most* people will just buy a new one, and they can make more money that way?

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It follows the evolution to a disposable society.  Things are not built to last or be repaired.  Just discard the broken/obsolete and replace.

We are on our third washing machine in 18 years.  Had an extended warranty on this last one and when it broke, Lowe's refunded our purchase price saying it would be cheaper to purchase a new one as opposed to repair this one.  

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@MadMax, one company that you are missing are the Force3 helmet. Looks to be a cross between the shape and design of the All star, and the (much improved over) spring system of the Wilson.

Now the price point is, for sure, and issue. But I was kind of surprised you left them out.

(Side note: I believe only former LA Dodger AJ Ellis wears Wilson gear... and that is a traditional mask.)

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4 hours ago, conbo61 said:

It follows the evolution to a disposable society.  Things are not built to last or be repaired.  Just discard the broken/obsolete and replace.

We are on our third washing machine in 18 years.  Had an extended warranty on this last one and when it broke, Lowe's refunded our purchase price saying it would be cheaper to purchase a new one as opposed to repair this one.  

Totally agree with this post. My family is on it's second washer in 10 years, fourth microwave in 8 years and second dishwasher in about 10 years. In all of the cases we too tried to get the appliances repaired and were told that it was cheaper to buy a new one. That being said my grandma had a washing machine from the late 60's/early 70's and it still works perfectly. I wish things were built to last like they used to be, but then they wouldn't keep getting our money right?

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Why can't one company extend the cage to cover the forehead, which is the Achilles heal of every HSM? Wilson did a one-off for single MLB umpire, but that was it. Nope, instead it's just plastic and foam rubber protecting your brain. Sure the cage may have springs and shocks, but when the ball strikes just above it, you're screwed.

 

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1 hour ago, kylejt said:

Why can't one company extend the cage to cover the forehead, which is the Achilles heel of every HSM? Wilson did a one-off for single MLB umpire, but that was it. Nope, instead it's just plastic and foam rubber protecting your brain. Sure the cage may have springs and shocks, but when the ball strikes just above it, you're screwed.

This is an excellent question.

The answer that first has to be presented, in defense of all HSMs and protective headwear, the forehead is the strongest part of the human skull. It is typically not a blow here that causes a concussion, but instead the whiplash effect or abruptly arrested inertia (ie. you're traveling at 80mph forward when suddenly your physical velocity is arrested, but your brain and organs are still traveling at 80mph). The sides, top, or rear of the skull are much more vulnerable. Mandibular impacts – shots to the jaw – are especially jarring, and often overwhelm the nerve nexuses clustered in and around the jaw's hinge.

With that considered, though, another answer to this is that besides the Force3 Defender HSM, no other HSM has been developed for umpires solely and expressly (the Defender, in fact, can be used for catchers, but its design impetus is focused on both behind-the-plate participants; catchers currently eschew it because of its weight and difficultly to throw with). The All-Star System 7's and Easton M-series HSMs are optimized for catchers, based around streamlined, rugged, durable geometry. They're designed and constructed to take the punishment of not only ball impacts, but bat impacts and the frequency of being tossed to the ground during action. Throws-while-worn are also optimized, with the HSM sporting a swept-back shape that allows the catcher to bring the ball up by his ear and throw forward in a compact, unhindered motion. Lastly, the chin area is formed in a way to accommodate a catcher (and this is the crucial difference between an umpire's needs and a catcher's needs of a HSM) when he drops his chin down to view a pitch or ball in the dirt or on the ground. Catchers are taught to drop their chin and position their body into a bowl shape. By contrast, umpires are taught to keep the head still and chin jutting out in an optically stable position.

This is the very crux of the problem.

No company (other than perhaps Force3) has been willing to look at this design problem from the standpoint of the umpire solely, since to do so would remove the far more lucrative and profitable market that catchers bring.

The problem is compounded by the "lesser" models of HSM from companies such as Diamond, Louisville Slugger, Worth and even the juggernauts like Rawlings, Nike and Mizuno. The Mizuno model in particular is perhaps the most thoroughly and comprehensively padded HSM for catchers on the market; but, it's entire design geometry – cage and chin shape specifically – serves no advantage to an umpire. Yet, umpires buy these units... because they are less expensive than the $180+ Wilsons, Force3's, and All-Stars.

Indeed, Gary Cederstrom identified one of the key design flaws of the Wilson Shock FX – it has a very blunt edifice to the shell right above the spring-suspended cage. If a foul-off is headed there (which happens far more rarely to umpires than catchers), why not have it impact the cage and be dampened? So, Mr. Cederstrom commissioned custom cages to include a forehead extension, and the mask behaves quite a bit better. But do you think Wilson took this input from an expert and applied it to their line of Shock FX HSMs? Absolutely not! Because that would involve money! And in the grand scheme of things, Wilson cares more about their bottom line profit margin than they do about umpire safety. Besides, what good is it to catchers, who comprise the majority of their market focus?

Unfortunately, the first rendition of the Force3 Defender HSM is traveling down the wrong path, despite having a very robust cage suspension system, and the best of intentions in mind. This wrong path originates in using existing HSM shell planforms and bolting on their suspension system instead of identifying the key, critical components of an ideal suspension system (eg. a floating, hinged chin; a sloped forehead; no anchor points on the centerline, etc.) and then designing and fabricating the ideal shell to support it.

I'll use the stalwart example of the Republic A-10 Thunderbolt II (aka The Warthog). It looks like no other aircraft in service because instead of designing and building the fastest/most nimble/most efficient/most aerodynamic planform they could, and then sticking guns on it, the designers were told, "Here's the most powerful gatling gun in existence, now design an airframe to carry it." Furthermore, "While you're at it, the greatest threat to these aircraft will come from the ground, in shrapnel or SAMs," so where did they put the engines? In a totally unconventional high and otherwise isolated position away from the structural integrity of the aircraft. The Warthog has since defied obsolescence and continues to be one of the most feared and effective aircraft in the skies today, some 40 years later.

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