James G. Klingensmith, a city kid who became a local icon through a four-decade photojournalism career best known for snapping Maz's iconic Game 7 home run, died of natural causes Monday at Kane Regional Center in Scott Township. He was 100.
Affectionately known as “Pap” and “Klinger” to a large network of family, friends and area media professionals, Klingensmith captured Pirates second baseman Bill Mazeroski’s excited rush around the bases after slugging the game-winning homer against the favored Yankees at Forbes Field in 1960. It remains the only walkoff homer in Game 7 World Series history.
the Scott resident described that he was able to capture that shot on little more than a gut feeling. “I just knew something big was going to happen that day,” he said.
With his oldest son in tow, Klingensmith asked a Forbes Field groundskeeper to borrow a ladder so they could climb to the grandstand rooftop behind home plate. He kept the ladder with him so he could get back down—and so no other photographer could climb up.
The vantage point led to a series of shots that earned Klingensmith, a retired Pittsburgh Post-Gazette photographer, a place at the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y. His photo of Mazeroski rounding second base with one leg in the air, waving his batting helmet, has also been sculpted into a statue commemorating the Bucco, who is revered as the only player to end a World Series Game 7 with a home run.
His oldest son Jim was with him the day he captured the photo and last summer when he was honored during the statue’s unveiling. He was also by his side every Sunday at the dog tracks and shared a home with him for the last five years.
“In all those times, all those years, I remember my father always had a smile on his face," his son said. "He always treated people the way he wanted to be treated. He was a friendly guy, and he genuinely cared about people."
While Klingensmith had no qualms about doing what he had to for the best shot of Mazeroski rounding the bases, he’d never take a photo that would hurt another person. According to Pittsburgh media lore, a city editor once told Klingensmith to go take a photo of two public figures drinking in a bar (when they shouldn’t have been). He called the bar first and said someone was going there to take their picture, so they left. Later, when he didn’t have the shot, he told the city editor they had already left and conveniently left out that he tipped them off.
“He never wanted to take a photo if it didn’t make someone look good. He was an old-time news guy. He was a gentleman,” Jim Jr. said.
Several stories shared Monday among those who knew him, as well as those who attended his 100th birthday party, revealed that there was no single subject or story that led to a pinnacle moment for Klingensmith.
“He was a real pro whose instincts and work ethic defined his art during the golden age of journalism,” said Bob Dvorchak, a veteran reporter who wrote an award-winning series on the 1960 Pirates and interviewed Klingensmith. “I know how honored he was to be among family and friends for his 100th birthday party. It was like a final snapshot in the sun. We won’t see his kind again.”
The best part of his 100 years, Klingensmith said earlier this month, was “walking down the streets of Pittsburgh and getting to know a person,” he said. “It was meeting so many wonderful people.”
He was born July 4, 1911 in Mount Washington to James C. and Amelia Klingensmith and attended South Hills High School. He was part of a City League championship football team in 1930, raised his family in Brookline, worked a brief stint at Kaufmann’s, and covered a range of local and national athletes and politicians before retiring at 74.
“Even after retirement, he did side jobs,” another son Jack said. “He loved the work.”
“He was the master of the malaprop in an endearing way. A true Pittsburgh character,” said Bill Moushey, a veteran investigative reporter and director of the Innocence Institute at Point Park University. Moushey previously worked with Klingensmith, his son Jack at WPXI and has been longtime friends with Jim Jr.
“I met him in the late 1970s, shortly after moving to Pittsburgh to edit Pittsburgher Magazine. He took my picture and became my friend. He never talked about himself, but could spin a yarn with the best of them. He virtually had an anecdote about everyone, whether they were his pal, Art Rooney Sr. or cleaning staff at a hotel,” Moushey said.
Alby Oxenreiter, a WPXI-TV sports anchor and family friend, attended Klingensmith’s birthday party to deliver a proclamation from Allegheny County Executive Dan Onorato, declaring the recent Fourth of July "James Klingensmith Day.”
This week he remembered Klingensmith and his “remarkable 100-year legacy.”
“He lived long enough to see his children’s children’s children and witnessed, with his own eyes, and through a camera lens, some of the incredible moments in the history of western Pennsylvania. He leaves a proud family, including three sons, 14 grandchildren and 15 great-grandchildren," Oxenreiter said. "He also gave us a famous series of photographs taken in the greatest hour of Pittsburgh sports. Mr. Klingensmith left an indelible mark on our region."
Klingensmith is frequently described as the patriarch and “godfather” of his family and straight shooter among his friends. Among an eclectic mix of guests at his recent birthday party were nieces and nephews who traveled from Florida, motorcycle enthusiasts, retired U.S. Secret Service employees, former colleagues, local union leaders and family from Dubai, United Arab Emerites.
“Everybody likes him, and he likes everybody," said his middle son, Joe. "He’s good with people, he knows people, and I think that’s why he was a good photographer."
But the self-taught photographer, who was an honorary member of the National Press Photographers Association, said the key to a good photo is “time and patience."
"You just have to relax," he once said. "The photo always comes.”
Klingensmith was also a former member of the Brookline Chamber of Commerce and coached a Brookline Little League team.
“My dad loved everyone—especially the bad kids," Jack said during his father’s 100th birthday party earlier this month. "He’d go talk to judges to try to help them because he always believed that if somebody got a second chance, they could make it in life."
He is preceded in death by his wife Angeline, whom he married in 1962, his parents and other loved family and friends. He is survived by three sons Jim, Joe and Jack, 14 grandchildren and 15 great-grandchildren.
Viewing services will be held from 2 to 4 and 7 to 9 p.m. Thursday and Friday at Slater Funeral Home in Scott. A funeral service is scheduled for 10 a.m. Saturday at Ss. Simon and Jude on Greentree Road.