It was Game 7 of the 1960 World Series between the Pittsburgh Pirates and the favored New York Yankees—and James Klingensmith had a 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 captured second baseman Bill Mazeroski’s excited rush around the bases after slugging a Ralph Terry pitch over the wall, winning the World Series for the Pirates on that historic October day.
Those photos 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.
Klingensmith discussed those photos during a Saturday birthday party in Scott Park celebrating his 100 years.
“Those photos almost didn’t happen,” he said. “All the photos start at second base because I was too busy cheering when Maz was on first.”
His oldest son Jim was with him that day and remembered nudging him on the waist until he picked up his new Nikon. He said his father quickly realized, and said, “I’ve got work to do.” And for the older Klingensmith it wasn’t so much that pinnacle moment in 1960 as it was all the moments in his decades worth of photography work that led to the best part of his 100 years.
“It was walking down the streets of Pittsburgh and getting to know a person,” he said. “It was meeting so many wonderful people.”
He grew up in Mt. Washington, 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 then, he did side jobs,” said his youngest son Jack, who followed in his father’s footsteps to become a cameraman for WPXI. Jack’s colleague Alby Oxenreiter, a sports anchor, was on hand to deliver a proclamation from Allegheny County Executive Dan Onorato, declaring this July 4 “James Klingensmith Day.”
Normally sharing his birthday with America, Saturday was all about a man who was frequently described as the patriarch of his family and straight shooter among his friends. Nary was an empty seat around him, as he was often surrounded by his three sons, 14 grandchildren and 15 great-grandchildren. Among an eclectic mix of other guests were nieces and nephews who traveled from Florida, motorcycle enthusiasts, retired U.S. Secret Service employees, former colleagues and union leaders.
“Everybody likes him, and he likes everybody. He’s good with people, he knows people, and I think that’s why he was a good photographer,” said Joe, his middle son.
But the self-taught Klingensmith said the key to a good photo is “time and patience. You just have to relax. The photo always comes.” During his 100 years he’s imparted much wisdom upon his sons, they said.
“He taught us to respect people, to treat them fairly, and he made sure we worked hard. I remember when he coached our Pony League baseball team. He drove us crazy, but we never lost a game. We were 28-0,” Jim said.
That team was part of the Brookline Little League, where Klingensmith served as a coach. He was also a former member of the Brookline Chamber of Commerce.
“My dad loved everyone—especially the bad kids. 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,” Jack said.
“He always said to respect a lady like your mother,” Joe said. “He’s a very good guy. Everything is face value with him.”
And thus their father has no problem revealing the secret for living a great 100 years: “I always say it’s the Canadian Club (whiskey) and water.”