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How do you replace the greatest sports broadcaster in history? To hear incoming Dodgers play-by-play man Joe Davis tell it, you don’t. “It’s impossible,” he says. The 29-year-old married Michigan native and former college football star will step in for Vin Scully — who retired last season at the age of 89 following 67 years with the Dodgers — on April 3, MLB’s Opening Day. Davis spoke with THR about taking the mic (alongside Orel Hershiser) full-time after calling more than 50 road games last season.
Vin was the voice of the Dodgers for 67 years and his presence is all around the stadium — you drive down Vin Scully Avenue to get to work and sit in the Vin Scully Press Box. How does that affect your mindset going in?
(Laughs.) It was important for me going into the job that I didn’t look at this as replacing Vin Scully because that’s impossible. I made it a conscious effort to go in and be myself and know that I’m not replacing Vin. And I literally am not sitting in Vin’s seat since the booth has been redone.
You’re 29 and taking over a job previously held by one of the most beloved figures in professional sports, for one of the most storied franchises in history. How are you feeling as Opening Day approaches?
(Laughs.) Doing the 50 games or so last year that I did [on the road] were important for me to ease in. For the people who are watching who have known only the best voice for the entire time the team has been in Los Angeles, I think it would have been extra difficult had it been Vin for 162 games and then he disappears and then there’s this guy who you’ve never heard do a game show up and do 162 games the following year.
Vin famously called you after you got the job and you missed both calls. When you finally did talk to him, what was his message to you?
His message is the same one that I have read that Red Barber [Scully’s predecessor] gave to him when he first started: “You bring one thing to the booth that nobody else can — and that is yourself.” It’s a disservice if you’re trying to do anything other than be yourself to the people at home.
When is the last time you spoke with him? Did he have any other words of encouragement?
I talked to him [last] week over the phone for 15 or 20 minutes. I asked him what his frame of mind was in those big moments. His message was the bigger the moment, the calmer you need to be. He said to imagine if your house is burning down — it doesn’t do you any good to freak out. You’re going to put yourself in the best situation if you stay calm in that situation.
Do you have an opening message planned for people who may expect to hear Vin?
I don’t think that I will mention him because that takes the attention off the field. I think the storylines are going to be Clayton Kershaw pitching his seventh opening day in a row and the Dodgers starting a march toward hopefully their first World Series since 1988. Of course, Vin is going to come up throughout the season and for all of time. He is the Dodgers.
Vin recently said that he knew in high school that he wanted to be a MLB broadcaster. Did you ever imagine yourself as the voice of the Dodgers and have those moments in the way that Vin did?
For as long as I can remember, I’ve known that I wanted to be a play-by-play broadcaster. So back to elementary school and junior high — it was as early as then that I began watching the games to listen to the announcers as much as I was watching them to actually watch the game. I never in a million years thought it would be as the voice of the Dodgers.
Who were the broadcasters who influenced you growing up?
Gary Thorne on the old NHL on ESPN. He’s the first guy I locked on to and said, “Wow, I like that sound.” I grew up a Cubs fan in the Midwest, so Pat Hughes on radio and later, Len Kasper on TV. The guy who has been calling the biggest games the entire time I was growing up was Joe Buck. I know it has become popular to dislike him but I don’t think there is anybody on the national level that does it better than him. I’ve probably taken more stylistically from him than anybody else.
Joe has this knack for telling you a layer beyond what it is you’re seeing explicitly. I think back to some of those big Yankees/Red Sox games: “[Johnny] Damon running around third and he can keep running to New York, Game 6 tomorrow night!” David Ortiz hits a walk-off home run after midnight and he pays tribute to his father not by saying we’ll see you tomorrow night, but because it was past midnight it was, “We’ll see you later tonight!”
Do you have a favorite call?
Those two from Buck would be ones that I’ve studied. As I got more intimately involved with the Dodgers, I went back and watched Vin call the entire ninth inning of the Kirk Gibson game [Game 1 of the 1988 World Series]. And it’s not just Vin’s final call — that’s all we hear now — but rarely do you get a chance to listen to the whole inning. The way he framed it and described things leading up to that moment — when it’s out of context it’s still great, but when you surround it with the context that he did, it was incredible. As far as a half-inning of play-by-play — and I know folks always go to Sandy Koufax’s perfect game and call that the greatest half-inning ever — the ninth inning of the Gibson game was pretty spectacular. It was almost like a movie. Game 5 of the NLDS [with the Dodgers vs. the Nationals] was similar where we saw Clayton Kershaw disappear from the dugout and you’re thinking there is no way he’s going back to warm up. Then he emerges and walks out to the bullpen.
Vin saw so much Dodger history firsthand and always paused during the game to share those important moments. Do you have any plans to either mirror those segments or feature clips of his best ones during broadcasts?
I don’t have any plans to copy or mirror that. As far as video packages, that’s above my pay grade.
What about incorporating his famous catchphrases?
I definitely won’t touch Vin’s catchphrases like “It’s time for Dodger baseball” or “Hello everybody and a pleasant good evening to you wherever you may be.” That’s blasphemous. If one develops over time, and I think it probably will if I’m lucky to do this long enough, that’d be awesome.
Vin started his career sharing the booth and you’re doing the same with Orel Hershiser. Do you feel a sense irony starting off the same way?
I don’t think that there will ever be somebody who calls a game solo ever again.
Could you imagine having this job for six decades?
(Laughs.) If I have this job for 67 years then I’m doing something really right! I’ll be 96 if I’m clicking at the same rate Vin was after 67 years.
If you could describe your dream job, how close is this?
It’s really close; it’s almost beyond my dream job. I consider myself a guy who dreams pretty big and I never imagined that this would be part of my career.
What’s the last thing you do before the mic goes live?
Just about every broadcast I do, have a moment where I smile to myself and look out at the field and think how stupidly lucky I am to be doing this job.
Sports Illustrated picked the Dodgers to win the World Series. Who else do you like?
I don’t disagree with picking the Dodgers. All the elements are there that need to be for a championship. They fell two wins short of reaching the World Series and brought back just about every important piece of that team. I disagree with the people who say the Cubs aren’t going to be as good.
If you could have anyone join you in the booth for an inning, as many teams do, who would that be?
The very first thing that comes to mind would be Vin. How great would it be to get him back there just to sit down and heck, let him take over?! If Vin came and wanted to take over, I would be the first person to step out of the chair and say please.
How can MLB shorten games?
Cut out commercial time, but there’s the obvious caveat that you’re cutting out money. You talk about raising the strike zone, and, yes, the goal here is that pitchers have to pitch to you and you’re going to have more balls in play, but isn’t the possible side effect that you have more walks?
Bigger picture: What can MLB do to bring in younger fans?
Have superstars who want to be marketable. That is not always the case right now. It wasn’t the case with Derek Jeter [when he started], either. The more guys you can get like that, good players who embrace the fact that they are superstars, the better it will be. Players like [Washington Nationals right fielder] Bryce Harper and [Dodgers shortstop] Corey Seager fit into that category.
The Dodgers have a lot of star fans — Eric Stonestreet, Bryan Cranston, George Lopez are all regulars. Have you heard from any of those die-hards?
Not yet. But I’m a huge Modern Family fan and my favorite show of all time is Breaking Bad. So if I do hear from those guys I would be pretty fired up about it.
A version of this story first appeared in the March 29 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.
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