Umpires have an important role in most sports and are there to support referees and other officials to ensure fair play within sporting games.
The specific role of an umpire differs between different sports but for the most part you will always be able to identify an official due to their distinctive uniform.
People often wonder how umpire uniforms were decided on and if there is any importance behind their clean and official look.
Here we look at the history of the umpire uniform and look at what the distinctive uniform looks like in modern days within a number of popular sports from across America.
The History Of the Umpire Uniform
The first recorded umpire was Will R. Wheaton who umpired a game of baseball in 1845. Wheaton was an attorney and so he was a well dressed man, expected to have been wearing a dark suit which was the origins of the umpire uniform.
There was no dress code for early umpires but each man chosen tended to be a man of status and so they would usually be wearing suits or a smart Prince Albert coat and also a dark colored hat.
Umpires were not paid and simply received the honor of being chosen, hence they could wear their own clothes.
In baseball, early umpires would wear a chest protector when umpiring at higher-standard games, such as National League or American league baseball games.
These protectors were worn either under, or above the umpire’s coat and would protect them from any baseballs traveling at speed that may hit them.
In the 1960’s the official attire for umpires changed and began to become more relaxed, beginning again in baseball where a dress code of a light blue shirt was introduced.
From here umpire uniforms transformed from including a jacket, to not requiring a jacket, to short sleeved shirts, and also darker colors were introduced to the dress code.
In recent times as umpires have been added as an official in many different sports there are a number of different types of umpire uniforms, with baseball umpire uniforms being the most established.
Uniforms have been designed with comfort in mind as umpires, in some sports, are required to move and follow the game. Wearing formal attire would limit how quickly they could move.
The uniforms that umpires wear now in modern times all have subtle nods to the long history of umpire uniforms.
The Modern Umpire Uniform
Below we look at what the umpire uniform looks like within some of the most popular sports that are played across the United States.
In American football there are up to seven officials, depending on the league, and one of these is the umpire. All officials wear the same uniform but the color of their hat can let a spectator or player see who is a referee and who is a different type of official.
Referees wear a white cap and other officials, like the umpire, wear a black cap.
The standard piece of uniform across all leagues is a black and white striped polo top.
This top was designed to make officials stand out so both players and spectators can identify who is an official and who is a player on the field.
In 1980 the uniform for umpires was standardized within the Major League Baseball federation. It was decided that all umpires would wear blue blazers with gray colored slacks and short-sleeved light blue shirts.
Umpires from the American league had AL on their caps and umpires working within the National League had NL on their caps.
This uniform stayed much the same until the introduction of windbreakers in the 1980’s and sweaters to keep the umpires warm.
Since then the uniform has changed color and style and now after the consolidation of umpires from different leagues one single uniform was implemented and it was to be adhered to by umpires for more elite leagues.
The modern uniform for a baseball umpire is a light blue shirt with gray slacks or trousers and a black hat. Optional outerwear includes a blazer or jacket that is black with a light blue trim around the shoulders.
The current uniform is a nod to former versions.
In non-professional leagues as umpires are not issued a uniform they tend to wear all black so as to still appear professional in their appearance.
A black polo shirt and cap with gray or black slacks are worn and often this uniform is made up of the umpire’s own personal clothing.
Softball is one of the only other American sports that requires an umpire. The uniform that softball umpires wear is like an homage to the old nickname umpires were once known as, the blues.
Softball umpires wear a navy blue or light blue polo shirt. These shirts can be personalized with the league association’s name or trademark imprinted on the left breast of the polo shirt.
Along with this polo shirt, softball umpires wear navy colored umpire pants that have a flat front. During the warmer months shorts that are a similar style to the standard issued trousers are allowed.
The above three sports are the most commonly played American sports that require an umpire. Other sports that have umpires as an official include tennis and cricket.
In these sports the umpire uniforms are again very formal and have nuances of the old-style official look that old day umpires had. Most other sports have a single, or a number of umpires.
Modern umpire uniforms are the same for both male or female umpires. For professional umpires, their uniform will be provided for them and will often feature personalisation related to the specific sport and federation that they work for.
Umpires with no training tend to wear all black to look professional.
We hope that you have found this piece interesting and that you enjoyed learning more about the distinctive umpire uniform and the journey the uniform has taken from its early inception to modern times.
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