Outfielder Barbara Garbey, 26, a top prospect in the Detroit organization, was put on probation May 27 for his participation in a game-fixing scheme in 1976-78 in his native Cuba. The ruling by John H. Johnson, the president of the minor leagues, is a mere hand slap, however, compared to the lifetime suspension from all sports that Garbey and 24 other players received from Cuban authorities in 1978.
Garbey (pronounced Gar-BAY) was a 17-year-old phenom when he made the Havana Industrials of the Selective Series, the Cuban major league, in 1974. Only two years later the gifted teen-ager batted .329 as a rightfielder and third baseman and earned a place on Cuba's amateur world champion national team. Garbey was also on the national team the following season, though no world championship tournament was held.
In 1978 Garbey, by then married and the father of the first of his two daughters, was recognized as a major star of Cuba's favorite pastime. He was on his way to surpassing the renown of his older brother, Rolando, who had won the world amateur light middleweight boxing championship in 1974 and Pan American Games gold medals in 1967, '71 and '75. Meanwhile, his younger sister, Marcia, was progressing as a sprinter and long jumper. She has since become one of Cuba's leading woman athletes.
It was also in 1978 that Cubans were shocked to learn about a game-fixing ring that was already in its third year. Following an investigation, the National Sports Institute passed a resolution that barred Garbey and the 24 others from participating in organized athletics in Cuba for the rest of their lives. Two years later, in the spring of 1980, the disgraced Garbey fled his country without his wife and daughters as one of the 125,000 Cubans in the so-called Freedom Flotilla to America.
Because of Cuba's proud baseball heritage, major league scouts went to Florida in hopes of finding another Tony Oliva, Minnie Minoso or Mike Cuellar among the exiles. The Tigers, however, were the only big league team to sign one of the Cubans. They selected three, signing Garbey on June 6, 1980 and sending him to Lakeland of the Class A Florida State League, where he batted .364. Garbey spent most of 1981 and all of '82 in Birmingham of the Class AA Southern League and last year hit .298 with 17 homers and 99 RBIs. This season Garbey moved up again, first to the Tigers' spring-training roster, before being assigned to their Class AAA American Association team in Evansville, Ind. At the end of last week Garbey, the only 1980 exile still active, was batting .310. "Garbey is definitely a major league prospect," says Detroit President Jim Campbell.
Garbey's troubles in this country began last month, when of his own accord he revealed to The Miami Herald some details of his involvement in the Cuban scandal. He took an unusual stance, however, saying, "I know I did right. I can do nothing in Cuba with 95 pesos [his monthly salary]. How are you going to buy a television in Cuba that costs 700 pesos? If I want my little girl to watch television, what can I do?" Garbey added, "When I was on the Cuban national team everyone was nice. Then, when I was not, everybody put me on the floor."
Garbey has refused to talk to SPORTS ILLUSTRATED, but he stated in the Herald interview and to Johnson that he took an undisclosed amount of money only to help keep his powerful team's winning scores from being too lopsided. Specifically, he told Johnson, he did what might be called "shaving" in six games in 1978.
However, sources in Cuba last week gave SPORTS ILLUSTRATED a different version. They say Garbey admitted throwing games, not just shaving runs, from 1976 until he and the others were caught in 1978. "Garbey prostituted himself and brought dishonor to Cuban sports," says Juan Luis Suse, the head of Cuba's amateur baseball federation.
Nor does Suse have much sympathy for Garbey's contention that he took money to help support his family. Suse points out that such essentials in Cuba as housing, health care and education are inexpensive or free. Like the other Cuban major-leaguers, Garbey was allowed to miss up to 150 days of work annually when not playing baseball and still get paid a minimum wage by his work center—for him, a fishing company.
How do Garbey's relatives in Cuba feel? A leading Cuban sportswriter says Garbey's brother and sister are known as "solid revolutionaries who felt that his delinquency and abandonment of the country was a betrayal." (His wife and children are living with her family.) A sister-in-law of Garbey's told SI, "I don't want to talk about him. I don't want to hear anything about him.... We don't want to have anything to do with him."
There's some concern in Cuba that Garbey's experiences in that country will be misrepresented in the U.S. Said the local sportswriter, "I have no doubt that the U.S. propagandists will use him to tell the world of a rags-to-riches story in the United States without ever mentioning once that he seriously violated the ethical and official rules here and betrayed the people's trust."
In fact, the sportswriter's misgivings may be justified. In his strangely worded statement upon putting Garbey on probation, Johnson said, "Activities of this sort in a professional game here would not be tolerated. However, these events took place five years ago in a foreign country whose government, whose culture and whose governmentally operated sports establishment are vastly different from those of North America. Just how these differing circumstances may have influenced, the events in 1978 is not clear." Also, Garbey's manager in Evansville, Gordon MacKenzie, has said, "I think all this is blown out of proportion. It's ridiculous to make so much out of it. Reporters should talk to people who live down there and find out what it's like."
Under Rule 21 of the Professional Baseball Rules, Johnson might have found Garbey "permanently ineligible." It applies to "any player...who shall promise or agree to lose, or to attempt to lose, or to fail to give his best efforts towards the winning of any Baseball game...." However, Johnson concluded that to declare Garbey ineligible or to impose a suspension "would be inappropriate at this time." Indeed, Johnson said that Garbey's conduct in the minors has been "above reproach," while Tiger Vice President Bill Lajoie, who was with Garbey while he was being questioned in New York on May 25 and 26, says, "We think the world of Garbey as a person. He's an outstanding citizen."
For now, Garbey's case remains in Johnson's hands. He will decide if any permanent action should be taken after this season. If the Tigers want to bring Garbey up, however, his case will fall within the jurisdiction of Commissioner Bowie Kuhn. And a spokesman for Kuhn says, "He is not going to talk about a hypothetical situation."