Campbell was the aggressor in the first round, eluding Baer's right hand and .scoring with his shorter, crisper punches. Near the end of the round, however, Baer dropped him with a looping right to the jaw. Campbell took a count of nine and did not seem seriously hurt. In the second, Campbell stung Baer with a left to the ribs and Max went down. He protested to Referee Toby Irwin that he had merely slipped, and Irwin agreed, motioning him back into action. Campbell, meanwhile, had not retreated to a neutral corner, as he would have been required to do in the event of a knockdown. Instead, he had strolled to the ring ropes and, inexplicably, began staring out at the crowd. As Baer regained his feet, a photographer's flashbulb exploded in his eyes, momentarily blurring his vision. He said later that Campbell appeared to him as only a shadow figure. Campbell was still gazing abstractedly as Baer advanced on him. He turned just as Baer caught him with a right to the side of the head. The blow stunned Campbell, but he held on and survived the round. Between rounds, he was heard to confide to his second. Tom (Greaseball) Maloney, "Something feels like it broke in my head."
But Campbell fought well in the next two rounds, staying even in the third and clearly winning the fourth. He was ahead on some scorecards in the fifth when Baer, the right-handed slugger, surprised him with a whistling left hook to the jaw. Campbell slumped back into the ropes in a neutral corner as Baer, sensing his opportunity but wary of possum-playing, belabored him with a succession of powerful punches to the head. Campbell did not go down. He could not, for the ring ropes were supporting him. With his opponent still on his feet, Baer kept punching. One of the blows caused Campbell's head to smash against the metal turnbuckle that joined the ropes with the ring posts. Still, he did not go down. The furious assault could not have lasted more than a few seconds, but it seemed to ringsiders like minutes before Irwin stepped in and pulled the flailing Baer away. As he did so, Campbell slumped unconscious to the canvas. A count was unnecessary. As flashbulbs popped, Irwin held Baer's hand aloft, while Campbell's seconds worked frantically to revive him. Baer helped them carry him to his stool.
The photograph of Baer that appeared in the morning Chronicle showed him smiling as winners are supposed to, but it was accompanied by a story saying that, as of one o'clock in the morning, Frankie Campbell "lay in St. Joseph's Hospital still insensible." Dr. Frank Sheehy of the hospital staff told reporters the fighter had suffered extensive brain damage and that "the outlook is very dark." Smith's story of the fight portrayed Baer as a vicious fighter. "He [Campbell] was ready to drop, but Baer continued to rain in blows to an unprotected jaw and against a man who was already knocked out...Campbell was dead to the world and stayed in that unconscious condition as Irwin raised Baer's hand and posed for the picture of the winner."
After he had showered, Baer asked Hoffman if he might visit Campbell in his dressing room and wish him well. "Frankie isn't in the room yet," Hoffman told him. "He's still in the ring." In fact, Campbell lay in the ring for a full half hour after the fight while an ambulance from nearby Mission Emergency Hospital threaded through traffic to the ball park. Baer went to the family home in Piedmont secure in the knowledge he had won an important fight, unaware that his opponent lay near death.
Early the next morning Baer received a phone call from the hospital. Campbell was not expected to live, and the police were asking for him. Baer replaced the receiver and turned to his family. "He just stood there, tears as big as golf balls rolling down his cheeks," Augie Baer recalls. "All the heart seemed to go right out of him then." Max had himself driven to the hospital, where he encountered Campbell's wife, who generously absolved him of blame. "It could have been you," she told him. He could barely speak in reply.
The fight officially ended Monday at 10:34 p.m. Frankie Campbell, age 26, died at 11:35 a.m. Tuesday of a double cerebral hemorrhage. Baer surrendered that afternoon to San Francisco Police Captain Fred Lemmon at the Hotel Whitcomb. The bail of $10,000, set by Superior Court Judge George H. Cabaniss, was the highest ever for a charge of manslaughter in San Francisco. Baer spent much of that day in jail before Hoffman arrived with the bail money.
The manslaughter charge was eventually and properly dismissed. That any such action should have been contemplated was in itself extraordinary, considering the circumstances of Campbell's death. Baer had operated within the rules of the prize ring. His opponent was still standing, and the referee had not stopped the fight. To quit punching under these conditions would have been to ignore the athletic commission's admonition. Still, Baer was vilified in the press as a dirty fighter. By striking Campbell from behind in the second round, an act that some were now—inaccurately—claiming was the beginning of the end, he had acted in an unsportsmanlike manner, the newspapers agreed. Working, Campbell's manager, insisted that Irwin should have declared his fighter the winner on a foul at that very moment. But Irwin had waved Baer back into action after his slip, and it was Campbell's responsibility, as it is every boxer's, to protect himself at all times. And if Campbell had been seriously injured by this "sneak punch," how was it possible, then, for him to have fought so effectively in the two succeeding rounds? And why hadn't Working thrown in the towel when his man was so obviously in trouble in the fifth, if he was so solicitous of his well-being? For the public, the fact remained that Baer had hit a man almost from behind and had continued to hit him when he was literally out on his feet. The affectionate nickname Livermore Butcher Boy, derived from Baer's former vocation, now took on a sinister connotation.
Baer was also the victim of an atmosphere of hysteria, fanned vigorously by William Randolph Hearst's flagship newspaper, the San Francisco Examiner. Campbell was the second boxer to die in a San Francisco ring within a week. On the previous Thursday, Johnny Anderson, an 18-year-old in his second professional bout, died after being knocked out the night before in National Hall by Reinhart (Red) Ruehl. In a city with a proud ring history, dating at least to Gentleman Jim, boxing was suddenly in bad odor. The Examiner, which two years earlier campaigned unsuccessfully to abolish boxing in California, took up the cudgel again. An unsigned news story on the front page set the tone for a second—equally unsuccessful—anti-boxing drive: "The legalized prize-ring butchery, which the laws of California sanction under the name of 'boxing,' yesterday claimed another human victim, the second within a week."
Irwin testified before the athletic commission that Baer had acted within the rules and that he (Irwin) had moved as quickly as possible to stop the fight; Campbell's death was an unfortunate accident. The commission must not have agreed, because it suspended both Baer and Irwin for one year and, for good measure, the managers and seconds of both fighters, nine persons in all.
To Max Baer the suspension was hardly the real punishment. That came from the terrible knowledge that he had killed a man with his fists. In newspaper accounts of his appearances in the courts and at Campbell's funeral, he was described as "white-faced," "trembling." a "ghost-like" figure with "lips pressed tightly and nervously together." He took up smoking. He suffered nightmares. He announced his retirement from the ring, only to be persuaded by Hoffman, his manager to be, to take some time off and think things out. He had not killed anyone deliberately, Hoffman told him. It had been an accident, the kind that can happen in a business as brutal as prizefighting. But as a fighter, as a man, Max Baer would never be the same.