The Los Angeles Dodgers are taking a new direction that goes beyond reconfigured player lineups, coaching assignments and concession stand offerings. With the official retirement of legendary sports announcer Vin Scully, the team is introducing fans to a young announcer who is fiercely determined not to step into Scully’s shoes – his goal is to make his own mark on the heavily competitive sports scene. “You don’t replace someone like Vin,” says sports commentator Joe Davis, 29, who moved from Michigan to South Pasadena with his family in January. “I don’t kid myself. I know that I’ll always be considered the guy who followed Vin. When someone says to me, ‘Well, you’re no Vin Scully,’ I tell them, ‘You are absolutely right. No one is.’”
While Davis called his first Dodgers home game in April, he has been serving up his play-by-play on the road since last season, while Scully continued home game duties. For 50 televised road games, Davis was joined by former Dodgers-turned-analyst-announcers Orel Hershiser and/or Nomar Garciaparra.
During that season, fans got a taste of post-Vin Dodgers life, adjusting to the rhythm of new voices and personality combinations. After all, Scully’s signature solo style has permeated the team’s essence for 67 years (he joined the team way back in Brooklyn in 1950). His mastery of the English language fused with his limitless knowledge of sports anecdotes to elevate the profession far beyond the clipped, old-time radio cadence of most broadcasters. “[Vin] is the greatest ever and all us broadcasters have learned so much from watching him through the years,” says Davis, adding that if he considered the pressure of the mantle every time he stepped into the Dodgers’ press box, “it would be overwhelming. Right from the start, I made a decision to be as mentally comfortable and tough as I could be — and a big part was to realize that I am not replacing Vin and no one was ever going to replace him. I have to try to be myself, lean on my analysts and hope, over time, I can be someone that people can tolerate.”
Fortunately, that was exactly what the team was looking for. “We looked at a lot of candidates for almost two years — listening to people, watching them — and Joe just bubbled up to the top,” says Lon Rose, Dodgers executive vice president and chief marketing officer. “He has a great enthusiasm, a love of the game. He offers that unique combination of a fresh perspective while respecting the past.”
Davis’ humble attitude, his genuine love for the game and his respect for Scully’s legacy are earning him high praise from Dodgers fans who have a right to be picky about the voice that accompanies a Joc Pederson grand slam or a Clayton Kershaw no-hitter. “You have a very tough role of stepping in the biggest shoes ever left to fill; I think you did an exceptional job last year,” one fan commented to Davis when he recently hosted an Ask Me Anything (AMA) Reddit conversation. “Your first year broadcasting with us was terrific, you have already earned a spot in the hearts of a ton of Dodgers fans,” wrote another. “Excited to hear you call Dodgers games for the next 50 years or so,” gushed another.
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Fans’ applause reflects Davis’ adoption of Scully’s treasured advice to him. “He called me the night before my hiring was announced and he passed along advice which was given to him when he started in 1950 from another Hall of Fame broadcaster, Red Barber. ‘You bring one thing to the booth that one else can – and that is yourself. To steer away from that would be a disservice to the people listening and to yourself, too.’”
Providing fans with just the right amount of statistics, emotion and stories – and knowing when to be quiet – is a lot harder than it seems, explains Davis, who says he knew from an early age that he wanted to be a professional sports announcer. Growing up in a small town in Michigan (“There were 70 kids in my graduating class”), Davis was heavily influenced by his dad, Paul Davis, who was a Michigan High School Hall of Fame football coach. “I have always been around sports,” says the longtime Cubs fan. “Going to practices or playing football and baseball, it’s been a part of my life as long as I can remember.”
Davis attended Beloit College in Wisconsin, where he played football and announced its baseball games in football’s off-season. Later, he assumed play-by-play duties for men’s and women’s basketball on local radio and television. He graduated in 2010.
While his collegiate career introduced him to the craft, Davis credits the three years he spent broadcasting minor league baseball on the radio as the real educational foundation for his career. “Anyone who asks me advice on how to get into the business, I tell them to do minor league baseball,” he says. “There is no better way to call games on a low-pressure level where you can make those mistakes and find yourself. It takes time to be yourself on air because we all think we are supposed to sound a certain way — like Mr. Broadcaster. Over the course of three seasons there were 400 games, which meant 400 opportunities to get better.”
Davis broke into television with a 2012 ESPN gig at the ripe old age of 24. He served as announcer for college baseball, basketball, football, hockey and softball and also appeared in spot duty for Major League Baseball on ESPN radio. In 2014, he was tapped by Fox Sports for national coverage of college football and basketball, and he continues to pursue that while with the Dodgers.
These days, Davis is enjoying life as a Southern California resident as he pursues the never ending world of research and preparation for the next game. “There’s a saying that to prepare to call a baseball game, you prepare your entire life,” he says. “You draw on stories you read 10 years ago, things you learned from playing baseball as a kid or umpiring when I was in high school. When it’s in season, there is a game every day to watch and learn. I am reading all the time or picking up as much firsthand stuff as I can from the players, managers and coaches in the clubhouse or batting cages. The access that I have is something that people at home don’t have, so it’s my job to take the fans behind the curtain.”
Davis, his wife, Libby, and their 10-month-old daughter, Charlotte, have settled comfortably in the warmth of South Pasadena. There are regular strolls to Eddie Park, workouts at the South Pasadena/San Marino YMCA, breakfasts at Julian’s and maybe lunch at the Bristol Farms deli. The family picked the area because it had a Midwestern small-town feel to it — but with a big difference. “We walk every day and that’s something we definitely weren’t doing in the winters in Michigan,” Davis says with a laugh. He says he still has moments of disbelief that he landed the job and his new life in Southern California.
Says Davis: “Walking into the press box is an incredible office to walk into every day,” he says. “Yes, I’m still pinching myself.”