A Snapshot in Time: Max and Buddy Baer

By Norman Marcus on January 24, 2018
A Snapshot in Time: Max and Buddy Baer
Max’s friendly manner and big smile were infectious. He owned London within a week.

When Max and Buddy were offered some bouts in Britain by promoter and businessman A.C. Critchley, the Baer brothers jumped at the offer…

1937-1938

Nothing much was happening for Max Baer here in America. The one-time heavyweight champion was supposed to fight Bob Pastor in Madison Square Garden in March of 1937, but was denied a license to fight in New York State. His old nemesis Bill Brown, a state boxing commissioner, called him a bum and refused to vote for his license. So when he and his brother Buddy were offered some bouts in Britain by promoter and businessman A.C. Critchley, the Baer brothers jumped at the offer.

Critchley was the Donald Trump of 1930s England. He paid the tab for the entire trip. The retired Brigadier General was involved in all fields of business. He owned hotels, racetracks and a stable of boxers. The Baer brothers turned out to be a sensation in Britain. The British saw them as American superstars of their day. Max brought everybody with him on the ship. His wife Mary, promoter Ancil Hoffman, brother Buddy, his whole entourage! They arrived by train at Waterloo Station in London on March 10, 1937.

Max’s first bout was there in London, against Tommy Farr, “the Tonypandy Terror.” Tommy was at the time the British and Empire heavyweight champion. The fight took place at Harringay Arena on April 15, 1937. Farr was the first real contender Max had fought in over a year. He had some ring rust and although he did his best and took all of Tommy’s best shots, he couldn’t knock him out. Farr won the fight by decision.

But more importantly Max had already won the hearts of the British public. His friendly manner and big smile were infectious. He owned London within a week.

The next month, on May 27, 1937, Max fought Ben Foord, the Champion of South Africa. Foord was more to his liking and style. Ben liked to stand there and mix it up, just like Max did. Foord was a hitter, not a boxer like Tommy Farr. Max knocked Ben down twice in round 2 and later caught him again with that looping overhand right for a KO9. True to form, Baer rushed over, sat down on the canvas and cradled Ben’s head in his lap, until the big man woke up. This had become Baer’s pattern since Frankie Campbell’s death at the San Francisco Ball Park on August 25, 1930. Max would never leave the ring now, until he saw that his opponent was all right. (A far cry from the Max Baer we see portrayed as a monster in Ron Howard’s film Cinderella Man.)

Sports reporter Peter Wilson of London’s Daily Mirror wrote the next morning, “If ever a man came near to meeting his death in the ring Foord did at the hands of Max Baer, who seemed to turn in a twinkling, from a strutting, grimacing playboy to a snarling wild beast.”

Jimmy Braddock had Baer figured out early on. He once said, “Max was a nice fellow but he should never have been a fighter. His ability was, if the guy could have got mad, you know, like guys get in a fight, he’d kill you with a punch, because he had killed a couple of guys, and I think that was on his mind.  But I always said that Max should have been an actor instead of a fighter.”

The Baer brothers were having a great time in Britain. Heavyweight contender Buddy Baer fought twice, beating Welshman Jim Wilde and Englishman Jack London. It seemed the two brothers could do no wrong in Britain.

Sadly a cable soon arrived, telling the boys that their father Jacob had suffered a heart attack. They were needed home as soon as possible. They rushed back to Livermore, California, by ship and plane. Both sons moved into the house, to help care for their father. He was in pretty bad shape and there were mounting medical bills.

Max picked up two exhibition matches close to home, so he could help with money and stay close to his father. The first match, a 4-rounder was in San Jose on July 30, 1937, was against a boxer named Al Rovay. The second bout was in Oakland, in October, against Nash Garrison. Jacob Baer slipped away on May 2. The boys were with him when he died. Their mother Dora Baer died a few months later. Livermore no longer seemed to be the center of their world. Max decided to return to New York City.

Joe Louis used 1938 as the year to get his revenge on Max Schmeling, with a first round KO of Herr Max. Baer used his time for just two fights. The first was a rematch in New York against Tommy Farr. Farr as you remember had beaten Max in London the year before. Baer didn’t like to lose but if he did, he always asked for a rematch, to settle who was the better man.

Tommy Farr was no exception. The two met on March 11, 1938, at the Garden in New York City. Farr had just gone 15 rounds against Joe Louis to lose a close decision. A victory over Baer would have been his ticket to a rematch with the champ. Max knew this and proceeded to take Farr apart. He wanted that rematch with Louis ever since his loss to Joe at Yankee Stadium, September 24, 1935. If he won this Farr bout, it would be hard for Mike Jacobs, Joe’s promoter, to deny him another shot at the title.

Baer knocked Farr down in round 2. It was the first time Farr had ever hit the canvas. Maxie did it with a left hook to the body, not his famous right hand. By 1938 Baer had finally developed a decent one-two punch. The fight was a real scrap with both men giving and taking blows. At the end of round 15, the decision went to Baer. Tommy’s rematch with Louis was immediately cancelled and Max was back at the top of the rankings. It was one of his best performances in a long time and the crowd again screamed his name. Uncle Mike, however, still stalled on the Louis rematch with Baer. A healthy Max Baer was someone to be feared.

Max’s second fight of the year took place in Honolulu, Hawaii, in October of 1938. Baer was asked to fight a local favorite Hank Hankinson. Max could never turn down a cruise and a good payday. So again, he and Mary, Buddy and Ancil boarded a liner for the islands. Max ate and relaxed a little bit too much on the trip and arrived in Honolulu twenty pounds over his fighting weight. Ancil was worried about his condition, but it didn’t matter. Max knocked Hankinson out in the first round. Actually it only took Max two minutes and twenty seconds to put Hankinson to sleep. The fight had been a complete sell out.

The clock was ticking on Baer. His wife Mary wanted him to retire while he still had all his marbles. Ten years in the ring taking headshots was a long time and Max had definitely taken his share.

The match with Louis was promised for Chicago but no papers were ever signed. Max fought on for another three years but the call from Jacobs never came.

The Ring Magazine ranked Max the number one contender for Louis’s heavyweight title in 1940. He retired from the ring on April 4, 1941. Buddy Baer retired on January 9, 1942, just a month after Pearl Harbor. Both brothers joined the Army Air Corps together. The main event now would be in the South Pacific.

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  1. Harold Quesnel 11:41am, 03/18/2018

    Awesome article!

    I heard that Norman is working on a book about Max Baer? I am interested. May I please have Norman’s email, to discuss this? Thanks.

    Harold

  2. Zena Warrior Princess 05:33am, 01/27/2018

    I don’t know how Marcus keeps coming up with these great stories about boxing in its golden age. My husband and I look forward to his articles. Wish there were more of them!
    Give this guy a big raise. He is a class act on this website!

    Zena and family!

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