Column: Joe Davis, the Dodgers’ new lead voice, won’t try to be Vin Scully, but being himself ought to be enough
Bill Plaschke of the Los Angeles Times thinks fans will like his booming voice and youthful enthusiasm. (March 1, 2017)
As Joe Davis prepares to settle into the most hallowed vacant seat in Los Angeles sports history, he can take solace in one bit of decorative relief.
He won’t actually be sitting in Vin Scully’s chair. It just so happens that the Dodgers have chosen this season to renovate the Dodger Stadium broadcast booth.
“I’m not replacing Vin Scully, nobody out there can replace him, there’s nobody yet born who could replace him,” Davis said.
The Dodgers’ new television broadcaster — who will formally begin filling the retired Scully’s spot Wednesday night for a spring training game against the San Francisco Giants on SportsNet LA at 5:05 p.m. — will also benefit from another change that will separate him from Scully’s shadow.
Davis will not work alone as Scully did, but instead will be joined during his 130-or-so games by either Orel Hershiser or Nomar Garciaparra.
“While Vin thrived in that one-man role, it’s so tough, I can see how you don’t want anybody beside Vin even trying it,” Davis said.
So Davis is not trying to resemble Scully, and the Dodgers don’t want him to copy Scully, and resonating louder than all of that, the actual Vin Scully doesn’t want him to attempt Scully.
“My prayer for him, for anyone, is maybe the hardest thing — be yourself,” Scully said in a phone interview Tuesday. “When he starts, and for the 100 years he might be there, the big thing is to be yourself.”
(We interrupt this column to report that in our conversation, Scully was as delightfully charming and sharp as ever, but definitely not coming back to work. Sorry.)
So, then, if Davis is smartly determined to forge his own path, where does that path begin?
Start with his tender age and short resume. He’s 29, which makes him younger than even the majority of Dodgers fans. Until he worked 52 road games last year, he had never been a play-by-play guy for a major league team. In fact, this April will mark the first time he has broadcast a game from Dodger Stadium in his life.
But, now, go to his clips, and listen. He’s good. He’s actually really good, with a distinct voice that booms like Joe Buck’s, a keen eye for detail, an appreciation for drama, and a youthful enthusiasm that makes the Dodgers sound not only credible and professional, but fun.
Go to YouTube, check out last year’s call on the incredible Yasiel Puig throw on which the right fielder gunned down Trevor Story on an attempted triple in Colorado.
“Story can fly. Puig can throw! My goodness! Yasiel Puig, from the wall!”
”He appears to be a fine young man, highly talented, I’m sure he will be welcomed by the fans, I certainly would pray for that,” Scully said of Davis.
The guess here is that at least those fans who can watch the games on TV — more than half of the Los Angeles market will still be blacked out at the start of the season because of the awful TV deal — will certainly welcome Davis and embrace his back story.
While the Dodgers hired him after hearing him on Fox national broadcasts — which he will still work, thus shortening his Dodgers schedule — his upbringing is small-town middle America.
He grew up in Charlotte and Potterville, Mich. — two tiny dots in the middle of the state. His father Paul was the football coach at Potterville High, Davis was the star quarterback and homecoming king, but his dream was to be a broadcaster, and he gravitated toward any microphone real or imagined.
He would provide play-by-play to his video games in his home. He would do play-by-play of sack races at high school pep rallies. At Beloit (Wis.) College, where he played quarterback and wide receiver, he would broadcast Ultimate Frisbee games as if they were the ultimate. His first championships as a broadcaster were Illinois high school girls’ volleyball.
“It is such a competitive industry, you have to do everything you can to set yourself apart,” he said.
A little luck also helps. Once, during his junior year in college, Davis wrote a letter seeking advice from Chicago Cubs television broadcaster Len Kasper. While attending a game at Wrigley Field, Davis attempted to deliver the letter to Kasper. But when he reached the press box, he realized it had fallen out of his pocket.
Later that night, while Davis was returning to his Michigan home, he was contacted by the owner of a Taco Bell across the street from Wrigley Field. The letter had been found on the street, and the store owner was so touched that she agreed to personally deliver it.
Sure enough, Kasper followed up, watched some tapes, and was impressed enough to serve as a valuable reference for Davis as he landed his first full-time paid job, as the play-by-play announcer for the double-A Montgomery (Ala.) Biscuits.
During his three years in Montgomery, he realized the power of the spoken word. Outside the Biscuits ballpark, a train would regularly chug past the left-field fence. Davis began noting the train’s appearance, at which point the train would “answer” him by blowing its whistle. Yeah, the engineer was a big Biscuits fan with a transistor radio.
“I love the challenge of capturing something in the moment and using it to connect with fans,” Davis said.
He quickly rose from Montgomery to ESPN to Fox to the ears of Dodgers officials, who loved the powerful voice and fresh face.
“He had a perspective we knew all Dodger fans would enjoy,” said Dodgers executive vice president Lon Rosen.
Davis was officially hired in the fall of 2015, a year early to ease the transition, but so early that he couldn’t imagine even talking to Scully, much less replacing him.
So when Scully called to congratulate him, Davis didn’t recognize the number and didn’t answer the phone. Twice.
“Joe, I’ve tried twice and not been able to get ahold of you so I believe I have started our relationship 0 for 2,” Scully said in the voicemail checked by the horrified Davis.
The men have since spoken several times, and will probably speak again before opening day, with Scully talking and Davis listening and all of Los Angeles hopefully understanding.
This is not about a torch passing. The memories of Vin Scully can never be extinguished. This is about a torch lighting, with a different sort of brightness, the extent of which only time will tell.
Get more of Bill Plaschke’s work and follow him on Twitter @BillPlaschke
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