Dave Winfield has terrorized Major League pitchers for years, but he struck out with a Baltimore taxi driver.
The wife of the black Minnesota Twins superstar has filed a complaint with the state Public Service Commission charging that the cabdriver refused to give her, her husband and relatives a ride, but moments later picked up six white men.
When the Winfields asked the cabdriver for an explanation, he laughed at them, the complaint said.
"Needless to say, we were quite disturbed at the racial overtones to that entire incident," said Tonya T. Winfield said in a July 26 letter to the PSC. In her complaint to the commission, Mrs. Winfield said the incident happened on July 17 at 11:35 p.m., after a game between the Twins and the Baltimore Orioles.
The cabdriver, Alexander Barmak, denied late yesterday that he had improperly refused to pick up the Winfields and their relatives.
Efforts to contact the Winfields were not successful.
The PSC, which regulates taxis in Baltimore, has not yet scheduled a hearing on the complaint, PSC spokesman Frank B. Fulton Jr. said.
Under Maryland law, cabdrivers on duty are required to transport all orderly passengers.
In her letter, Mrs. Winfield said that she, her husband and her mother and father were leaving Oriole Stadium at Camden Yards and walking toward Pratt Street when they spotted Mr. Barmak's cab.
When they first tried to hail the cab, Mr. Barmak waved them off and continued on, Mrs. Winfield said in the complaint. But the taxi got stuck in traffic, and the Winfields again approached it. They asked the driver if he was working, and he said he was not, the complaint says.
But after walking a little further, the Winfields looked back to see the same cab loading six white men, Mrs. Winfield said. When the cab came past them in the slow traffic, the Winfields asked the driver why he had said he was not working. "He laughed, as well as some of his passengers," according to the complaint.
The permit for the cab is leased from G. Baytler Inc. The cab itself is owned and driven by Mr. Barmak and operates within the Checker Cab Association Inc.
Mr. Barmak confirmed some of Mrs. Winfield's description of that evening but disagreed on other points.
He said he had attended the baseball game that night with a cousin and four friends and, after the game, went to get his car in the stadium parking lot.
He was driving the cab to the bar where his friends were waiting for him, he said, when a woman asked him if he was working and he said he was not. "I had a big sign -- off duty," Mr. Barmak said in halting English.
He said he did not recall Mrs. Winfield talking to him a second time and might have been talking to a friend at the time Mrs. Winfield said he laughed at her.
Mark Joseph, president of the Checker Cab Association Inc., said that he doesn't know all the details of the incident but that the company has a strong nondiscrimination policy. "Did it [discrimination] happen in this case, we don't know," he said. "I'm anxious to hear the Public Service Commission hearing on this."
In an Aug. 16 letter to the PSC, Gregory Baytler, president of G. Baytler, said: "Mr. Barmak is astonished and grieved by the fact that Mrs. Winfield perceived and presented that event from the racial point of view," the letter said.
He went on to write about Mr. Barmak's ethnic background. "Mr. Barmak is a Soviet Jew, who came to the United States about 1 1/2 years ago as a political refugee from the former Soviet Union," the letter said. "Nobody else knows better than him what the real 'discriminative overtones' mentioned by Mrs. Winfield are," Mr. Baytler said.
Mr. Fulton of the PSC said the case will be heard by hearing examiner David Moore. He will make a recommendation to the five-member PSC, which makes the final decision, Mr. Fulton said. Parties in the case can ask the commission to reconsider the decision, and it can be appealed to the Baltimore Circuit Court.
Penalties in such cases primarily involve suspension or revocation of a person's license to drive a cab, Mr. Fulton said.