Barfield was born in Joliet, Illinois. He joined the Blue Jays in 1981 and was a regular by 1982. He helped Toronto reach the playoffs for the first time in 1985. In 1988, Barfield was traded to the New York Yankees for pitcher Al Leiter. Injuries and ineffectiveness forced his retirement in 1992 at age 32.
Barfield led the major leagues in home runs in 1986, becoming the first Toronto player to ever do so. He was awarded the Gold Glove in 1986 and 1987 and was selected to the American League All-Star team in 1986. Barfield retired with a .256 career batting average, 241 home runs, and 716 RBIs.