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On August 25, 1930, two up and coming west coast boxers met in a ring built over home plate at San Francisco's Recreation Park to fight for the unofficial title of Pacific Coast champion. The unusually large Depression-era crowd of 15, 000 included fight promoters, matchmakers, managers and several former heavyweight champions. The winner of the bout was assured of national attention, future matches in large east coast fights and the possibility of a shot at the heavyweight title. As the fighters met in the middle of the ring, 21 year old Max Baer of Livermore and 24 year old Frankie Campbell of San Francisco were instructed by the referee to "keep fighting as long as the other man is on his feet," "protect yourself at all times" and that "unintentional fouls would not be recognized. " Neither fighter took the instructions lightly. The newspapers had already dubbed it a "grudge match" and betting on the outcome was heavy.
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In the 2nd round of the fight, Campbell clipped Baer and Baer slipped to the canvas. Campbell went toward his corner and waved to the crowd. He thought Baer was getting the count. Baer got up and flew at Campbell , landing a looping right at Campbell's turned head which sent him to the canvas. After the round, Campbell said to his trainer "something feels like it snapped in my head. " But Campbell went on to handily win rounds 3 and 4. As Baer rose for the 5th round, Tillie "Kid" Herman, Baer's former friend and trainer, who had literally switched camps overnight and was now in Campbell's corner , savagely taunted and jeered Baer. In a rage and determined to end the bout with a knockout, Baer soon had Campbell against the ropes. As he hammered him with punch after punch, the ropes were the only thing to hold Campbell up . Tillie Herman, as Campbell 's chief second had the privilege of throwing in the towel but did not. Referee Toby Irwin seemed oblivious to what was occurring. When Irwin finally stopped the fight, Campbell collapsed to the canvas. It is reported Baer 's own seconds administered to Campbell and that Baer was by his side until an ambulance arrived 30 minutes later. Baer "visited the stricken fighter's bedside" where he offered Frankie's wife Ellie the hand that hit her husband. "She took that hand and the two stood speechless for a moment. 'It was unfortunate, I'm awfully sorry'. said Baer. 'It even might have been you mightn't it.'" Ellie replied.
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At noon the next day, with a lit candle laced between his crossed fingers, his wife and mother beside him, Frankie Campbell was pronounced dead. Upon the surgeon's announcement of Campbell's death, Baer broke down and sobbed inconsolably. Brain specialist Dr. Tilton E. Tillman " declared death had been caused by a succession of blows on the jaw and not by any struck on the rear of the head. " and that Campbell's brain had been "knocked completely loose from his skull. "
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The next day, local sportswriter Bob Shand reported that "Nobody feels sorrier over the tragic ending of the bout than Baer. The big kid is heartbroken and ready to quit the racket" and that "in one of his earlier bouts, Baer was reprimanded for not stepping in and finishing his man. He never forgot that advice." After Campbell's wife and his mother refused to press charges, the District Attorney charged Baer with manslaughter. Appearing before San Francisco Municipal Judge Albert J. Fritz, Fritz remarked to Baer , "You are in a difficult position." to which Baer replied, "Its not so bad for me your Honor, but it sure is tough for Mrs. Campbell ." Referee Toby Irwin claimed that because it was well known that Frankie Campbell 'played possum' during fights so that his opponents, thinking he was hurt, would leave themselves open to attack, "waited until he was certain that Campbell had been knocked out for fear the audience would claim the fight was faked." Charges were later dropped and Baer received a one year suspension of his boxing privileges in California. According to his family members, Baer was in a deep depression and did not leave the family home for over 2 months, endlessly smoking, drinking and eating very little. Baer later said for weeks he was "unable to sleep for more than an hour a night" as visions of the fifth round replayed themselves over and over in his mind. Baer later held an exhibition fight which raised over $10,000 for Ellie Campbell and reportedly put her children through college. After the exhibition fight, when Ellie was asked whether she forgave Baer, she replied, "I have no resentment toward Mr. Baer. There's only room in my heart for sorrow. "
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- Date: 1930-08-25
- Location: Recreation Park, San Francisco, California, USA
- Referee: Toby Irwin
Baer strutted about the ring before the fight, wearing a sneering grin. He paid no attention at all to the man he was to fight. Frankie smiled with confidence as he gazed across the canvas at his opponent. When the bell sounded, Max pressed in immediately, forcing it, letting his punches go fast and hard. Frankie rushed Max to the ropes time and again, forcing him back by sheer energy of attack, forcing him to cover. Baer met his attack with grim purpose. Frankie's seconds Tillie Herman and Ray Carlin taunted Baer from the corner in an effort to break his concentration. Baer ignored their jibes and suddenly whipped over a right hand to Campbell's jaw which dropped him to the canvas. Campbell showed the experience of a campaigner by taking a full nine count, then got up strong and unhurt, to attack again. Max was awarded the round.
As the second round began, Frankie's seconds again jeered Baer. Max attacked Frankie furiously and would not be driven off. He landed blow after heavy blow, and at one point was ordered to elevate his sights. It was a wonder Frankie could take it, but he did, fighting back hard. He drove Baer into the ropes. Baer then drove Campbell into his own corner with a rush. Campbell's seconds yelled at him to "keep low" meaning to weave and bob. When he attempted to do so, he was invariably met with a right hand uppercut. Frankie half pushed, half shoved Max to the floor and Frankie's seconds burst into laughter. Referee Toby Irwin waved Campbell to a neutral corner. Campbell stepped over Baer's legs and smiling to himself, walked lightly to his own corner. He looked down at ringside and waved to his wife Elsie, who smiled with pride. Baer, his pride injured, took no count, rolled over, leaped to his feet and rushed after Campbell. Not realizing that Baer was up, Campbell had not turned, when Baer caught him and knocked him into the ropes with a hard left on the side of the jaw. Frankie saved himself from falling by winding his arms around the top rope. Max was strictly within his rights, but was booed by the crowd. Baer continued to hammer him with body blows. Irwin stepped between the men and disentangled Campbell's arms from the ropes. It looked as if he intended to stop the fight, for Campbell had been pounded apparently helpless in a few seconds. But Campbell stepped aside, squared off, and just then the bell rang. Max was awarded the round.
Back in his corner, Tom Maloney overheard Frankie say to his seconds "it feels like something broke in my head." Frankie came out in the third, however, with extreme vigor which lasted through the round. Campbell changed his style and out-boxed his man. He beat Baer all over the ring. Frankie was awarded the round.
Frankie and Max at battle - August 25, 1930
Campbell came back strong in the fourth round, apparently having completely recuperated from the hard beating in the second. He literally ran across the ring to get at Baer. The fighters slugged each other toe to toe every second of the way. Frankie's seconds again jeered Max mercilessly throughout the round. Campbell was knocked groggy twice for a few seconds, but came right back to hammer Baer's body until Baer visibly weakened and slowed up. Campbell was cautioned to elevate his sights, but he was taking a decided lead in the fight. Frankie was awarded the round.
Shortly before 10:30p.m., with honors even, Frankie's seconds sent him out in the fifth round to try for a knockout. As he trotted to the center of the ring, Cal Working yelled to friends at ringside, “We’ve got him, we’ve got him. We’re going to win now.” The jeering and jibing from Campbell's corner escalated to foul language and attacks on Baer and his family. Max's fury was now white hot and he left his corner enraged and determined to score a knockout. He held his long left arm out to stop Campbell's punches, and slugged at him with his right. The blows were slow, but powerful. Max missed, then leaped forward, hitting with terrific speed and force as he drove Frankie to the ropes with a left hook to the stomach. Campbell was just about holding his own until Baer crowded him into a corner and smashed him on the chin with a devastating right hand. That punch alone actually knocked Campbell out. Baer fought like a man possessed as he continued to drive in rights and lefts to Campbell’s unprotected jaw. Campbell was “out” but Baer did not know it. Campbell could not fall down as he was supported on two sides by the ropes. Campbell’s eyes were glassy. He started to fall forward and was straightened up with a left hand to the chin. There was no way to fall but forward, yet Baer was in front of him punching, punching, punching.
Referee Toby Irwin was positioned behind Baer and claimed he was oblivious to the fact that Campbell was out and unable to defend himself. Later Irwin would declare to friends he had waited until "certain" Campbell had been knocked out for fear the audience would claim the fight was faked. He seemed to overlook the fact that as long as Campbell could bob and weave he could let his head "go" with the blows. Pinned in a corner, he had to accept the full force of Baer's punches. Contrary to popular belief, Max's blows did not cause Frankie's head to slam against the corner post. Tillie Herman, in his bright yellow sweater, stood on the steps leading to Campbell's corner. It was his privilege as chief second to enter the ring and stop the bout but he remained in the corner. Cal Working declared later that he and second Larry Morrison had yelled at Irwin to give Baer the fight and that he had “told the cops that they or Toby Irwin ought to stop the fight" then started to climb into the ring. Perhaps he did, but in the pandemonium Irwin could hear nothing but the roar of the crowd demanding that the affair be halted.
Not until Max had taken at least six “free shots” to the head and body and Frankie had crumpled to the canvas did Irwin intervene. While Frankie lay stretched on the floor unconscious, blood oozing from his mouth, nose and ears, Toby Irwin pushed in between Baer and the ropes and posed for a picture, raising Baer’s arm in a token of victory. Frankie was lifted to his corner, but fell unconscious from the stool. He lay sprawled on the canvas in the open air, the cool mist of the fog on his unfeeling face, as his and Baer's seconds worked to rouse him without success.
Toby Irwin slipped among the milling thousands in the fight arena and disappeared into the night. Baer had to move fast through a hostile mob to his dressing room, which fortunately for Baer, was on the opposite side of the ring from where Frankie’s angry supporters had congregated.
Photographers attempted to take pictures of Frankie stretched out in a corner of the ring but were threatened by fans. "One intrepid cameraman took a chance, but no sooner had he shot his flash light than he was hustled from both within and without the ring. Two of Frankie's camp followers jumped over the ropes and attempted to smash the camera." Spectators crying “this will hurt the game” assaulted the cameraman as soon as he stepped outside the ball park.
Tillie Herman raises Max Baer's hand in victory - August 25, 1930
Twenty minutes elapsed before the ring doctor, believed to be well back in the audience was able to push his way to the ring. Another ten minutes passed before an ambulance summoned by a newspaperman arrived to take Frankie to the hospital. It had been stalled in traffic. Frankie, with Elsie holding his hand, was loaded onto a stretcher and taken to Mission Emergency Hospital. Surgeons who examined him thought he had a fractured skull or one or more vertebrae were broken. Frankie, still unconscious, was then taken to St. Joseph’s Hospital for a more thorough examination.
At length, doctors at St. Joseph's determined Frankie suffered from brain bruises and hemorrhages. Surgery would be futile. Near midnight, Frankie slipped into a coma. Elsie became progressively more hysterical and at 1a.m. she was sent home and ordered into a physician’s care. Frankie's Mother Eliza Camilli, "who was in Sacramento, knew nothing of the tragic finale of the bout until she read it in the late newspapers. She rushed to the City immediately, and arrived before Elsie had left the hospital. The two, after a moment of restraint, fell into each other’s arms, sobbing."
Early the next morning, Frankie experienced hemorrhages of the eyes and leakages of blood down his spinal column as death approached. "While she was hovering in the hospital room where her husband’s life was ebbing, despite the administration of oxygen as a last resort," Max Baer "tears as big as golf balls falling down his face" "visited the stricken fighter's bedside" where he offered Elsie the hand that hit her husband. "She took that hand and the two stood speechless for a moment. 'It was unfortunate, I'm awfully sorry'. said Max. 'It even might have been you mightn't it.'" Elsie replied. When reporters later asked of her feelings towards Baer, she replied, “I have no room for bitterness in my heart today, only sorrow.” As she sat beside her husband, Elsie's hand moved over her stomach and she whispered to Cal Working, "I’ve got to keep up for the baby’s sake.”
At mid-morning, last rites of the Catholic Church were administered to Frankie by Fathers Keeney and Maier of St. Paul’s Church. With a lit candle laced between his crossed fingers, his family and his managers beside him, Frankie Campbell was pronounced dead at 11:43a.m, barely 13 hours after the fight that was supposed to change his life. Upon the surgeon's announcement of Campbell's death, Max Baer, who waited nearby, broke down and sobbed inconsolably.
Dr. Tilton. E. Tilman, brain specialist, speaking for himself and his colleagues, Drs. Frank Sheehy and Edmund Morrissey, who worked over the young fighter all night "declared death had been caused by a succession of blows on the jaw and not by any struck on the rear of the head." and that “Campbell’s brain was knocked completely loose from his skull. If it had been a case of one cerebral hemorrhage, or two, or even three, we might have saved his life. But his brain tissue literally was one huge mass of bruises. There was nothing to be done." Campbell's brain had been "knocked completely loose from his skull." "Under the circumstances, the surgeons explained, it was impossible to operate."
Source: Max Baer.org