Until we hear Joe Davis on Dodgers telecasts, and until the Dodgers realize the arrival of a new play-by-play announcer is the right moment to push for wider distribution of SportsNet LA, we mainly know what he’s not.
He’s not Vin Scully’s replacement come the awful day Scully leaves the broadcast booth, likely after next season. Nor is he a Scully clone. Davis went through a stage when he copied Scully’s delivery but realized it was futile.
“Anything you do, when you do it for the first time, you’re mimicking the best, whether that’s a golf swing or going on the air as a broadcaster,” said Davis, who was hired last week to work television for 50 Dodgers road games. “You find out pretty quickly when you flip on the tape and listen back that I can’t be Vin Scully. I can’t swing a club like Jordan Spieth. You just need to be yourself, and it takes time to find yourself.”
This much is apparent after seeing some of Davis’ baseball videos and his work on Fox’s Texas Christian-Kansas football telecast last week: he has game, a pleasant presence, and the generosity to let his broadcast partners shine.
Davis, 27, has a solid resume of college football and basketball, and minor league baseball work, but doesn’t have a scripted home run call. He doesn’t have a shtick. He does have respect for the game and his commentators, valuable assets during a long season. His lack of self-promotion is refreshing in a world of screamers who put their brand ahead of their job.
“The new guys have grown up on ‘SportsCenter’ and ‘SportsCenter’ highlights, so all they hear, or all they’re working towards, is getting that home run call on ‘SportsCenter’ or on ‘MLB Tonight,’ ” said Dodgers play-by-play announcer Charley Steiner, who will again do some TV and some radio next season.
“We’re on the air about 650 hours a summer and there’s no safety net. It seems to me what you have to be is a comfortable pair of brown shoes so that you’re not infringing upon the game. The game is the thing.”
Steiner was consulted during the interview process, and that was some of the wisdom he offered Davis before his hiring was announced last week.
“He’s not replacing Vin. I’m not replacing Vin. What he has been invited to is a very exclusive club that was founded by Red Barber and presided over by Vin Scully for the last 66 years,” Steiner said. “There aren’t many of us who have been invited into this club. If Joe thinks of it in those terms instead of filling in for Vin in the booth, I think he’ll be a whole lot better off.
“Because at the end of the day, the icon-replacing business is not a flourishing industry. Essentially, what I said to him was, ‘All you can do is be the best Joe Davis you can be. You can’t be another Vin. You can’t be another anybody.’ ”
Scully phoned Davis twice, although Davis didn’t pick up the calls from an unknown number. The caller left a voice mail the second time.
“I hit play and it said, ‘Hi Joe, this is Vin Scully.’ And I about dropped the phone,” Davis said. “It was the shock of, oh my goodness, I just ignored Vin Scully’s call twice, and having it sink in that it was Vin calling to welcome me to the Dodger family and assure me it was going to be a great marriage and that he remembered what it was like, in his words, to join the big club when he was in his 20s.”
Like his straightforward delivery, Davis’ reliance on his analysts came through evolution.
“The tendency when you first get started is you’re so focused on what you’re saying and the next thing out of your mouth that you neglect to listen,” he said in a phone interview Wednesday. “So much of teeing up the analyst is listening to what they’re saying and taking them a step further on that. As I’ve gotten more confident in myself I think that’s allowed me to focus more on the analyst and realize that television is more about the analyst and about getting their insight.”
His lack of a signature home run call is deliberate, too.
“My philosophy and style is that the game takes precedence,” he said. “Not just with home run calls but with anything — if you have these rehearsed lines in your head you’re probably not capturing and captioning the moment appropriately because every moment is so different.”
The son of a high school football coach who spots for him on college football telecasts, Davis plans to remain based in Grand Rapids, Mich., in 2016 and move to Los Angeles with his wife Libby in 2017. If all goes well, he could be part of Dodgers fans’ lives for a long time.
“I’d like them to think, ‘Huh, this guy is easy to listen to. He doesn’t make it about himself. I wouldn’t mind kicking back and having a drink with this guy, sitting back at a barbecue and hanging out with this guy, sitting down and having a Dodger dog at the game with this guy,’ ” he said. “People have got to want to hang around you a lot.”