1996 March

1st The Yankees christen Legends Field, their new $30 million 31-acre complex near the Tampa Airport.  The field has the exact dimensions of the stadium in the Bronx. On hand to see Phil Rizzuto toss out the first ball are former Yanks Whitey Ford, Catfish Hunter, Ron Guidry, and Chris Chambliss, who then watch the new Yankees beat the AL Champion Indians, 5–2.

2nd  At St. Petersburg’s Al Lang Field, two Japanese umpires work a game with two American umps.  Osamu Ito is behind the plate as the Pirates whip the Cardinals, 11–2. “I thought they did a good job,” commented Bucs’ manager Jim Leyland. “And even if they didn’t, you couldn’t argue with them.” In Dunedin, fellow Central League umps Samio Murakoshi and Toshio Azuma are part of a four-man crews that works the Phillies 12–2 win over the Blue Jays. Meanwhile, four umpires from the majors are on a 9-day tour of the Japanese Leagues.

5th The Veteran’s Committee elects four new members of the Hall of Fame, and just misses naming a fifth. The group elected includes Earl Weaver, Orioles manger for 17 seasons, Jim Bunning, who won 100 games in each league, 19th century manager Ned Hanlon, who won pennants in Baltimore and Brooklyn, and Bill Foster, the Negro League’s winningest pitcher. Nellie Fox receives the necessary 75% of the Committee’s votes, but the rules allow just one modern player elected, and Bunning has more votes.

22nd The Tigers trade pitchers Sean Bergman and Cade Gaspar, and OF Todd Steverson, to the Padres in exchange for OF Melvin Nieves, C Raul Casanova, and P Richie Lewis.

23rd  In a Grapefruit League game at Clearwater’s Jack Russell Stadium, the Phillies and Indians meet for the first time in their history, with the Tribe prevailing 8–2.

24th At Legends Field, New York Yankee infielder Tony Fernandez fractures his right elbow in a 8–3 game with the Astros, and is placed on the 60-day DL.

26th Voters in San Francisco vote 2-to-1 in favor of a privately-funded stadium to replace Candlestick Park, the windy 36-year-old home of the Giants. The passage of the measure, the first step towards building the 42,000 seat bayside park, exempts the Giants from the waterside height restrictions. Plans call for the park to be ready for Opening Day, 2000.

28th Kirby Puckett is taken to the Ft. Myers Hospital after he awakes with his vision affected by a career-threatening malady. He has a black dot in front of his left eye and his vision is diagnosed as 20/200. Puckett, who hit .360 in spring training, will undergo surgery on April 17.

29th The Giants sign pitcher Mark Gardner, released by the Florida Marlins.

31st  Hours before Opening Day, the Mets add a fifth starter to replace three of their ailing young arms on the DL. New York sends the expendable Ryan Thompson and pitcher Reid Cornelius to the Indians for Mark Clark.  Clark was 20–10 over the past two seasons.

In the earliest Opening Day ever, the Mariners sail past the White Sox in 12 innings, 3–2 in Seattle. Randy Johnson strikes out 14 Sox in 7 innings, but serves up a 2-run homer to Frank Thomas. Five M’s pitchers strike out a ML-Opener record 21 batters, including Ron Karkovice five times, a ML record for opening day, while the Sox use 7 pitchers in the loss.  The AL unveiled its new colorful red polo shirts for the umpires, part of the “What a Game” campaign to lure fans back to the parks.  The last sartorial change was in the 1970s when AL umps wore red blazers for several years.  Al umps will wear red and blue polo shirts for the season; NL umps will stick with traditional blue.