Everybody's got fear. Everybody's afraid something bad is going to happen sometime. That's life. But what's important is that you don't let it stop you from doing things, taking risks. Every decision is a risk, every choice leaves a choice behind. You can't let yourself get paralyzed by the fear of what might go wrong.
Fear is a big part of everything we do. There's fear of failure, fear of flying, fear of getting hurt, fear of doctors, and so on. When I got my knee replaced a few years ago, you could say I had a little fear. What if something bad happened? What if the doctor screwed up? Thing is, I knew I wanted to walk without pain and play golf pretty bad, so I went through with it, a little fearful but I went ahead anyway. Fortunately everything worked out pretty good, and the harder I worked in rehab, the better I felt. Now my knee is great; they say I won't have to replace it for another fifteen or twenty years, but that's OK because I figure they'll have to replace me first while the knee keeps on going.
There's a lot of people with phobias, that's just the way it is. Phil Rizzuto was - and still is - one of the great worriers; he's afraid of everything that moves. Mice, insects, snakes - anything that crawls he's afraid of, which is why he was a great target for pranks. Guys would put worms in his glove and he would jump ten feet. Phil also had a real fear of birds, and once Johnny Lindell put a live bird inside a drawer where Phil put his valuables when he dressed for the game. He put his hand in the drawer and felt the bird move and tore out of the room like crazy. I don't think he ever used the drawer again.
My biggest fear is probably death; I know I'm going to die, but I don't especially want to be there when it happens. If I have another fear, maybe it's more a dislike, it's public speaking. I don't mind answering questions in front of a large group, but giving speeches is something else. It just makes me uneasy; it's one of the best things I hate.
I guess we all have some kinds of fears. The trick is to overcome them. It comes down to confidence and concentration. Baseball's a real good example: A lot of young kids have a fear of getting hit by a ball. Why? Because when it hits them, it hurts. The main thing is to teach them how to hit properly, and how to get of the way of an inside pitch. Using a tennis ball to practice is a good help, because you can gradually build up the confidence and lessen the fear.
It's funny, but a lot of kids think they can really get hurt playing baseball. They don't worry about getting in a fight or falling off a skateboard - but they're still afraid of a little ball. Truth is, the chance of getting hurt by a baseball is really, really small. But the fear exists...even for the big-leaguers.
Reggie Jackson never lacked confidence, except when it came to Nolan Ryan, who he said was "the only guy who put fear in me. Not because he can get me out, but because he can kill me." I think Randy Johnson scares some guys in the same way, too. He's so big, throws so hard, I think there are many guys just plain afraid to hit against him. That's not good for your confidence.
As a hitter, I always thought I had the advantage: I had the bat in my hand. I hit against some guys who threw real hard - Bob Feller and Herb Score were real fast - but I honestly never feared anyone. Maybe the one guy who made me a bit nervous was Sandy Koufax when he first came up. We'd see him in spring training and he had no idea where the ball was going. That wasn't good for your confidence either.
President Roosevelt said there was nothing to fear but fear itself, and that makes sense to me. Whenever someone goes to a hospital or has an operation, I always try to cheer them up. My granddaughter Lindsay is a fearless kid, real athletic, but she had to get a hernia operation and was pretty worried. When I asked her what the heck she was worried about, she looked at me like I was crazy and reminded me how nervous I was before my knee operation. So maybe the truth is you can't get rid of people's fears, but you can help them go on despite them.
Not everybody's always helpful. Looking back, I feel kind of bad when I think about Jackie Jensen, who was a good player and briefly a teammate on the Yankees, and was terrified of flying. We'd be asleep on a plane, and Billy Martin would grad an oxygen mask and yell, "Jackie, we're going down!" and it really shook him up. Jackie never overcame his fear of flying and it cut short his career.
You have to appreciate people who struggle to overcome their fears. Jimmy Piersall was a real good player for the Red Sox, but he had a nervous breakdown because he had all sorts of paranoid fears - they even made a movie about him called Fear Strikes Out. The good thing was that Jimmy eventually got better, got his confidence back, and played a great centerfield. He always stayed a bit flaky, though. How many guys used to take bug spray to the outfield?
-Yogi Berra, What Time Is It? You Mean Now?: Advice for Life from the Zennest Master of Them All