Joe Davis isn’t the heir apparent to Vin Scully.
“Nobody is the heir apparent to Vin Scully,” said Lon Rosen, the Dodgers’ executive VP and Chief Marketing Officer on Wednesday, after spending the last two years trying to find someone who could be added to the team’s SportsNet L.A. TV broadcast team.
“There is nobody in the entire universe – living, dead or born in the future — who can replace Vin Scully. He’s irreplaceable.”
That said, perhaps it’s a bit easier for someone like Davis, a somewhat under-the-radar 27-year-old who’s carved out a nice niche of doing Fox MLB and college football games, to even consider himself prepared for this next professional endeavor.
Because, simply, that’s how Davis looks at this situation, too.
“First, everybody acknowledges you don’t replace Vin, and you never will – the same as with any legend in any industry,” Davis, whose multi-year deal with the team was solidified Wednesday as the third TV voice on the Dodgers’ roster to do a 50-game schedule in 2016, said from his home in Grand Rapids, Mich.
“From my perspective, how do I embrace this? All I really worry about is doing the best I can on those 50 games next year. It’s a cliché to say that, but …
“Would I love to be here a long time? Sure. I have an incredible opportunity. I’m not planning on this being a short-term thing. That wouldn’t do anyone justice to the job. What role I have moving forward is really out of my hands and for a discussion down the road.
“But just know: You’re crazy if you think you’re replacing Vin Scully. I’ve never been one who makes decisions based off fear. That’s not a way to live. This is an opportunity that is a little more layered, more context around it because of how amazing he stands in the all-time ranks.”
With this new arrangement that was all but completed months ago, Davis will work with SportsNet LA analysts Orel Hershiser and Nomar Garciaparra on a majority of the road games. Charley Steiner will do about 30 road games on TV with Hershiser and/or Garciaparra as well, and continue to be the radio play-by-play voice on the road with Rick Monday as the analyst when Davis is on TV.
Scully, the Baseball Hall of Famer who turns 88 the Sunday after Thanksgiving, says that in all likelihood the 2016 season will be his last and his likely schedule is doing as many home games as he chooses, with an occasional trip to Anaheim and San Francisco if desired.
There’s no one but him and his family closing the door to him coming back for as long as he’s ready, willing and able.
In the meantime, Rosen has been working with a team in the Dodgers front office that includes president Stan Kasten, VP of marketing and broadcasting Erik Braverman, SportsNet L.A. execs Larry Myers and Mark Shuken – as well as recruiting Steiner for feedback – to prepare for the inevitable day when Scully’s chair needs a permanent filler.
For at last the last 16-month period, the Dodgers and Davis have been in deep discussions for this role, working to see how the pieces could fit as he continues to have a presence on Fox’s regional MLB package.
“We’ve listened to a lot of broadcasters the last two years and followed him and really liked him,” said Rosen. “I love his delivery. He’s very mature. A very good style.”
Former Dodger Eric Karros, who did a few games last summer with Davis, says he is someone “who will work hard and appreciate this opportunity that he’s earned. He eats, breathes and sleeps broadcasting. This can be a tough position for him to come into, but there will be no preconceived notions about him. He’ll have a great opportunity to establish himself in L.A. He handles himself very well, very down to Earth. This is a great hire.”
While we had our own speculation about who could be seen as the next play-by-play voice for the team, Sports Illustrated’s Richard Deitsch was one who called Davis a “darkhorse” in a recent column.
Deitsch also quizzed current Milwaukee Brewers and TBS play-by-play man Brian Anderson as to how anyone could come into this position knowing Scully’s legacy looms over it.
Anderson’s advice was to accept just a one-year trial offer contract, not move the family to L.A., and “be as little of a distraction as possible, do very little press, no branding/PR strategy … (and) hopefully you prove to be a worthy hire and all parties agree to proceed.”
Davis, who considers Anderson a friend and mentor in the business, saw that and now smiles when reminded of it.
“What Brian said is a great way to look at it,” said Davis, who has been married to his wife, Libby, a Michigan native like him, for the past 2½ years. “With my kind of personality and style on the air, I’m someone who gets out of the way, does the basics and fundamentals and lets the analysts be the stars. So that kind of plays into how I’ll approach this.”
At one point in the last decade, the only other young play-by-play man who could be considered “next” in the Dodgers’ broadcast succession plan was Eric Collins, a Syracuse grad and Chicago resident who did a road-game package for the Dodgers from 2009-13. Some enjoyed his upbeat style, others didn’t – the 46-year-old has parlayed it into becoming the voice of the NBA’s Charlotte Hornets on Fox Sports Southwest this season.
One of the criticisms of his work is that he wasn’t up to speed as much on Dodgers’ history as many as the viewers were.
Davis wants the past to be a priority for his future with the organization.
“It’s absolutely important to have that – I don’t think there’s another organization whose history as important as the identity of the Dodgers,” said Davis, a native of Potterville, Michigan and former college football player at Beloit College in Wisconsin who was focused more on a broadcasting career than playing, as documented in this college magazine story.
“The first thing you do is recognize the history, and then you embrace it. I didn’t grow up in L.A., so the only way to really know this is to dive in, visit with those who’ve seen it and lived it first hand, and realize there’s no substitute for time when it comes to history.”
Maybe to prove that point, Davis tweeted this out Wednesday:
My parents are here for a celebratory dinner. My dad brought me these. pic.twitter.com/SITvNOmtjt
— Joe Davis (@Joe_Davis) November 11, 2015
Rosen doesn’t anticipate Davis to have a problem with knowing team history.
“Whenever you have a new broadcaster, history is something you have to learn and naturally that takes some time,” said Rosen. “As much as Charley Steiner grew up a Dodgers fan (in Brooklyn), he had to learn the ‘new’ Dodgers, too.”
It’s not as if Rosen and the Dodgers were required to hire another broadcaster at this point in time. Steiner, as far as Rosen is concerned, has been with the team since 2005 and “I hope he’s here another 30 or 40 years.”
For the Dodgers, this is apparently too good an opportunity to pass in adding Davis — likely before anyone else did at a time when the Padres recently hired Don Orsillo to work with Dick Enberg during his final season with the team. Davis made several trips to L.A. during the summer and even had what was “a recruiting lunch” with Hershiser along the way.
His only experience as a team broadcaster Davis has was working three seasons for the Double-A Montgomery Biscuits in Alabama, the Tampa Bay Rays’ affiliate. He was the Southern League Broadcaster of the Year in 2012, leading right to a job with ESPN at the age of 24 on college baseball, basketball, football, hockey and softball, as well as some MLB on ESPN Radio.
A piece three years ago on ESPN’s PR website said Davis came to the company because he “was one of those finds where I immediately knew there was potential,” said Mike Moore, a Charlotte-based ESPN Senior Coordinating producer.
Davis, working this season with Brady Quinn on Fox Sports/FS1 college football games, wasn’t going to be unclaimed for long. He called USC’s last-play loss to Arizona State in 2014 and may be on the call for the Trojans’ game at Oregon next week. He and Quinn are doing Saturday’s Kansas-TCU game for FS1.
Davis has never had the chance to call a Dodgers’ game in his two seasons at Fox Sports. He realizes the current SportsNet L.A. distribution issue, which may go into its third season of restrictive exposure in Southern California, is something that is “out of my control, although I’d much prefer everyone see the games. I’ll do my job and not read too much into all that.”
While Davis knows he likely won’t be working alongside Scully as a mentor in 2016, he will make the time to visit with Scully as much as possible. He grew up in college listening to Scully call games through via the MLB.com service and caught himself imitating Scully’s calls.
Which Davis eventually realized and stopped doing. He wanted to find his own voice.
But he still has learned many basics to the craft from studying Scully.
“Anyone who tries to imitate Vin falls flat,” said Davis. “But what stands out now about him, and what people may not necessarily pinpoint, is that during 162-game season, it’s all about wearability. How much do people enjoy listening to you on a nightly basis?
“For him, it’s not just a few years of wearability. It’s the team’s entire time in Los Angeles. His incredible longevity has become a matter of likeability that comes from delivery and tone. There’s the obvious command of the language and the feel for the moment, which he is second to none. He has embraced the layout of not speaking in huge moments. That’s all fundamental things you can learn and practice. But the big one – wearabilty – is no one has ever done it, and nobody will ever be as widely loved and accepted in people’s homes every single night as he has been.”
Scully and Steiner called Davis on Tuesday night to welcome him to the organization, something Davis says is “one of the coolest things” that’s happened to him.
Davis was even taken somewhat aback when Scully said that perhaps the next time Davis was out at Dodger Stadium for a visit, he could “steal some of my time” for a talk.
“I think I can make that happen,” Davis said with a laugh.