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David McCullough, Series Host: Hello and welcome to The American Experience.
I'm David McCullough.
As anybody could have told you in the 1940's and certainly any kid who loved baseball-- there was no team on earth like the Yankees.
They were it, tops, the best. As New York was the biggest, greatest city in the world, or the Empire State Building the tallest skyscraper ever, so the New York Yankees were the greatest team that ever was or probably ever would be.
And they looked the part. That was one of the rules if you played for the Yankees. You dressed right. You kept your hair cut. On the road you tipped the waiters properly -- 25 cents for breakfast, 50 cents for lunch.
On the field there was only one rule really, one creed: no mistakes.
The Yankees meant perfection, and in the 1940's the perfect Yankee was Joe DiMaggio. That's how this tall silent man outshined them all, doing everything perfectly. And that is what ate away at him inside. Joe DiMaggio had to be perfect.
"Joltin Joe!" In his amazing hitting streak, he struck out only five times in 56 games.
In Pittsburgh we had a DiMaggio playing the out field for the Pirates, Joe's brother Vince, who was known affectionately as the strike out king.
But he was a DiMaggio. That was enough.
Vince, who loved to sing and talk, once told Joe, "If you could talk like I do and I could hit like you, we'd both be famous."
Joe was one of nine children, born dirt-poor, the son of an illiterate Italian fisherman, and at a time when Italian-Americans were looked down on. Importantly, he became the ultimate baseball hero when baseball was the game, and for all his troubles later, he was a hero still, to the last
Joe DiMaggio by producer Mark Zwonitzer.