Max Baer vs. Frankie Campbell

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Max Baer 197 lbs beat Frankie Campbell 182 lbs by TKO in round 5 of 10

  • Date: 1930-08-25
  • Location: Recreation Park, San Francisco, California, USA
  • Referee: Toby Irwin

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.

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.

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."

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."

Source: Max Baer