Joe Davis stepped into some mighty big shoes last year when he succeeded legendary Los Angeles Dodgers play-by-play commentator Vin Scully. It was a job that he eased into after filling the position for the team’s away games in 2016, and fans quickly embraced him as he proved to have a facility for telling great stories about the team’s players on a moment’s notice.
The 30-year-old Michigan native built those skills while attending Beloit College in Wisconsin, where he lettered for four years in football and also served as the team’s two-time captain. During the off-season, he took on the play-by-play duties for the school’s athletic department and called the baseball and basketball games on local radio and TV.
After graduation, Davis spent three years as the radio voice of the Montgomery Biscuits, an Alabama-based Double A Affiliate of the Tampa Bay Rays. Then Davis began his meteoric rise through the ranks at ESPN and FOX, where he’s called the MLB Postseason, Big 12 and Pac 12 Football Championships, and dozens of other high-profile events as one of the network’s lead voices.
Davis will appear at 7 p.m. Monday at the South Pasadena Public Library at its annual Baseball Night, with Los Angeles Times Assistant Sports Editor Houston Mitchell moderating both the discussion and an audience Q&A afterward. As he looked ahead to the event, Davis took time to discuss his remarkable career.
Was it difficult taking over from a legend like Scully?
That’s a huge responsibility and that helps make it as special as it is. First of all, you’re not going to replace him because it’s impossible to replace anybody who’s the best ever at what they do. You can look at it as a pressure-packed position but that wouldn’t do me any good. The big word for me was responsibility, to do it for the Dodgers and their fans. I wasn’t replacing Vin and wasn’t trying to. I found that being yourself helps you be natural in the job.
Do you have any memories of your first official ballgame in the job?
They did a really special thing opening day where Vin recorded a special message for the video board, saying it’s exciting for the broadcasters as well as coaches and players, and he said welcome a new one, and he handed me a microphone to say hi to the crowd. That was a very emotional, special day sitting there in that chair for the first time. A real pinch me moment.
How did you get into announcing?
I’m lucky in that I’ve always known what I wanted to do. It’s fine if you don’t know what you want until a little later in life, but it’s a huge advantage if you figure out your passion early and for me it was fifth or sixth grade, so it guided my life and school decisions from an early age. I had been planning for it for many years so it really helped fast start to my career.
Growing up my heroes were a lot of guys who I was paying close attention to from fifth grade on, and the one calling games my whole lifetime on TV is [FOX Sports announcer] Joe Buck. I’ve taken as much from him as anybody. Don’t know if I know anyone better at capturing a moment and making it big. Cubs announcer Pat Hughes, too, because I was a Cubs fan. There’s a big list of people who helped me personally as I got going in this business.
What’s been the key to your rising so fast?
I think that a lot of it is my passion in what I do. I know it sounds like hyperbole but I probably obsess over it, I’m a huge broadcast nerd. I don’t think I do anything extraordinarily well or have secrets, I just think everything you’re taught to do in this business, I obsess over it and try to be perfect. Also hopefully I’m a good guy. When I talk to college kids just starting out or trying to get in the business, I note we have a sign in our living room that says “Work hard and be nice.” It’s easy to get caught up in trying to climb the ladder. Work hard, be nice, try to treat people well. Hopefully you’re OK at calling the games, but those things are just as important.
Vin Scully told you to be yourself on air. Has that been difficult?
As a play-by-play guy, being yourself is not talking about yourself. I’m never going to make it about me. It’s just allowing your personality to come through, allowing yourself to be you. It’s easier said than done. You get in your head that there’s a way you’re supposed to sound. The human nature tendency is to try to repeat what made him so special in 67 years in the job. There are many things I pick up every time I listen to him. There’s a difference between taking things from someone and trying to be him. Take things from yourself without making it be about yourself.
How do you know if a story is good to tell amid a game?
The storytelling thing stands out for me, because it’s a big part of what makes it special. You don’t try to copy what somebody else is doing, but there’s a reason people like the storytelling. My ears would perk up when I heard myself telling a story. People want to know that these are humans before they’re players. They want to know about them. Vin gave a great blueprint. You don’t excel for 67 years without doing things people really like.
I do stories more than I normally would. A big part of it is just being around, be around the cage every day and when you travel you’re in a plane, hotels and buses with them all the time. I try not to be in their space all the time, but enough to learn some things and translate that to the listeners and viewers at home.
How did you decide to live in South Pasadena?
Being from the Midwest, it felt like home to us. There are tree-lined streets and sidewalks, and the convenience to the stadium is perfect. It’s a 15-minute drive for me and nothing in LA seems like a 15-minute drive so it was like from the Twilight Zone.
Joe Davis appears at South Pasadena Library Baseball Night at 7 p.m. Monday at the library’s Centennial Room, located at 1115 El Centro St., South Pasadena. Admission is free. Call (626) 403-7340.