Righthander, 5’10”, 170 lbs.
Barbaro Garbey, the youngest of nine siblings, was born on December 4, 1956 in Santiago de Cuba, Cuba.
The Garbey family produced one of the finest crops of athletes in Cuba. Barbaro’s brother Rolando, a light-middleweight boxer, won the country’s first international gold medal in boxing at the Pan American Games in 1967. He also won a silver medal at the 1976 Olympics in Mexico City. He added a bronze medal to his collection at the Montreal Olympics eight years later. In 2004 he coached the national boxing team at the Athens Olympics.
Their sister Marcia placed fourth in the long jump at the 1972 Olympics in Munich. At the time it was the highest a Cuban woman ever placed in a track and field event.
BASEBALL IN CUBAN
Barbaro started playing baseball at age 8. When he was eleven years old in 1968, he was recruited into what he terms as “a school for sports.” He took classes in the mornings and played ball in the afternoons.
From there, he joined the Havana Industriales and played in amateur international tournaments as a member of the Cuban national squad at the end of each season (Castro had outlawed professional baseball back in 1961). In 1976 he won the batting title with the Industriales with a .328 mark. He played on the Cuban national team in both 1976 and ’77.
In 1978 Garbey was one of ten players banned for accepting cash in a run-shaving scam. He took money to keep scores close; though, he said he never actually threw any games which is highly questionable. He wasn’t conciliatory about it either declaring, “I know I did right. A lot of people say it was wrong. I say it was right. Garbey claimed the 95 peso a month stipend that he received was much too insignificant for him to live on, stating flatly “I can do nothing in Cuba with 95 pesos. I believe no one in the world can live on 95 pesos.” He needed the money for his family.
In 1980 Cuban Dictator Fidel Castro temporarily lifted his no-exit edict. Between April and October 1,700 boats brought 125,000 Cubans refugees to the United States during the Carter Administration in what is known as the “Mariel Freedom Flotilla.” Many of the deportees were dubbed gusanos, worms, by Castro, men and women that were undesirable for one reason or another. Many had been incarcerated; many were political dissidents.
Garbey was none of the above; he was a mere ballplayer who was shunned by the national power brokers. He wanted to play ball, so he borrowed a friend’s immigration papers and attempted to sneak on a flotilla; however, he was easily recognizable in the baseball ravenous country. He was turned away on three separate occasions. Finally, he was permitted to board on his fourth try, despite the fact that the official recognized him. The man blustered, “Okay, you want to go, get the hell out of here.” The refugees weren’t permitted to take anything with them, no jewelry or watches, not even eyeglasses. They were permitted the clothes they were wearing and a hat if they had one. The price was even higher for Garbey; he had to leave his wife and two daughters behind.
Garbey arrived in Key West, Florida with 200 other passengers in May. He was then taken to a refugee camp at Fort Indiantown Gap in East Hanover, Pennsylvania. It was initially opened in 1931 as a training camp for the National Guard.
Orlando Pena, a well-traveled major leaguer from 1958-75 and currently a scout for the Detroit Tigers, heard that Garbey was residing at Fort Indiantown Gap and tracked him down. He had to wait for twelve hours to be cleared for the visit. Pena was unimpressed, the supposed ballplayer was way too skinny with “blue jeans rolled up to his knees and an old T-shirt.” Pena just shook his head and asked Garbey if he could hit. He promised he could if he could eat some solid meals to regain his weight.
Garbey signed with the Tigers on June 6 as a non-draft free agent for a $2,500 bonus with a promise of another $7,500 if he made the majors. As Garbey later lamented, “Not much money, but I was happy to get it.” He became the first Cuban to rise through their baseball system since Castro took over to sign with a pro club in the U.S (There wouldn’t be another until Rene Arocha in 1991).
BASEBALL IN THE UNITED STATES
Garbey was assigned to Lakeland in the Class-A Florida State League in 1980. He appeared in 26 games, hitting .364. He played the whole season in Double-A in 1981 for Birmingham in the Southern League, batting .286 in 107 games. He then joined the Triple-A Evansville club (American Association) for four games at the end of the season.
Nineteen Eighty-Two was spent at Double-A again. He hit .298 with 99 RBI. The following year brought a promotion to Triple-A and a .321 batting average in 101 games. The year 1983 also brought a good deal of trouble.
On May 21 he admitted to a Miami reporter that he was banned in Cuban for game-fixing. The Tigers were unaware. Commissioner Bowie Kuhn and American League president Lee MacPhail discussed the matter with minor league president John H. Johnson. As a result, Garbey was placed on probation pending an investigation.
While on probation, Garbey made matter worse. He got into a fight with a fan. He was immediately suspended after allegedly striking a heckler in Louisville with a bat on June 28. Supposedly the fan made some comment about Garbey’s starving wife and kids. The ballplayer picked up a fungo bat and attacked the individual.
Evansville general manager saw little hope that Garbey would play out the year, stating, “This may very well be it for Barbaro…” Luckily, he was reinstated on July 26 with a $500 fine.
Garbey never did unite with his wife and daughters. He was treated by a therapist for depression over the matter. The Tigers gladly picked up his medial expenses. Garbey would later say that Tigers general manager Bill Lajoie was like a father to him. Eventually, the couple divorced and Garbey remarried.
Garbey made the Tigers’ roster in 1984 just in time to help the club to a 35-5 start and the world championship. He was delighted with his $41,000 salary and, of course, the $7,500 bonus (And don’t forget the World Series check). On May 15 his probation was lifted. In 110 games (mostly at 1B, 3B and DH) he batted .287 and knocked in 52 runs. In the World Series he failed to get a hit in twelve at bats. Nevertheless, he earned a ring in his rookie season.
Garbey’s output dropped off in 1985 (.257 BA and 29 RBI in 86 games) Added that to the fact that they just didn’t know where to play him because of his mediocre fielding, the Tigers traded him to the Oakland A’s for Dave Collins on November 13.
OUT OF THE MAJORS
The A’s outright released him before Opening Day 1986, stating flatly said they didn’t need another DH-outfielder type with questionable fielding skills. Garbey played ball in 1986 and ’87 in Mexico and Venezuela.
On November 27, 1986 Garbey was arrested for possession of cocaine. He was pulled over for speeding in Miami. While being questioned, he attempted to toss a dollar bill with cocaine in it under the car to hide it from the officer. When caught, Garbey asked them to give him a break since he was a pro ballplayer and this could potentially ruin his career. The arresting officer was Frank Irvine, a former Cubs’ farmhand, wasn’t sympatric, stating “I told him I played baseball but I never used cocaine.” He was held over with $5,000 bail and arraigned in December.
On December 13, 1987 Garbey was signed as a free agent by the Texas Rangers. He began 1988 with their Triple-A affiliate in Oklahoma City (of the American Association). He hit .289 in 67 games and was brought up to the parent club in June to replace Oddibe McDowell. In thirty games he batted .194 to finish his major league career.
In 1989 he appeared in 67 games for Double-A Jacksonville, an Expos affiliate. In 1990 he appeared in one game in the Dodgers’ system with Albuquerque (Dodgers system) of the Pacific Coast League.
During the baseball strike of 1994-95, Garbey was one of the replacement players for the Cleveland Indians. On March 2, 1995 he was traded to the Reds with four others for future considerations. It was the first ever trade of replacement players.
After retiring, Garbey went into coaching. In 2003 he was hitting coach for the West Michigan Whitecaps, a Class-A Tigers affiliate. In 2006 he worked for the Cubs at Peoria then joined the Tennessee Smokies, a Cubs Class-A club, in 2007. He is with the team in 2008.
He was remarried to Kimberly Garbey. They have three children and live in Wixom, Detroit. He gives private hitting lessons at $80 an hour during the off-season.