Progress isn’t linear. It’s one of those axioms that gets thrown up on a whiteboard at motivational seminars, or parroted by coaches as certifiable. It’s dismissed casually now; pushed to the side of “keeping the main thing the main thing” or “controlling what you can control” and left for athletes to tweet in all caps with a bunch of emojis. It’s a shame, since the basic tenets of the phrase are extremely important, especially as the lines between traditional measures of success and failure dissolve and hierarchal paths result in a [page not found].
Joe Davis knows this as well as anyone. He’s managed to replace two titans of the sport at the same time, becoming the Dodgers play-by-play man following Vin Scully’s retirement and taking over lead duties for Fox MLB after Joe Buck signed a deal with ESPN. The 34-year-old midwesterner wouldn’t necessarily have drawn up a path to living in Southern California when he was calling games in Schaumburg, Ill. or with the Montgomery Biscuits, or at Baylor or Boston College, or for the Loyola Ramblers, but he’s crafted the same meticulous work ethic since his days at Belloit College in Wisconsin. Reps are reps, and there’s no better way to gain those reps than calling the long and exhausting baseball season, year in and year out.
Each of those reps prepared him for the moment he’s in now, gracing the pages of the New York Times and Los Angeles Times in a week that saw him calling his first MLB All-Star Game, fittingly at Dodger Stadium.
Uproxx Sports spoke with Davis in advance of Tuesday’s All-Star Game about his journey, learning to let himself be himself, and the advice he’s gathered along the way.
Martin Rickman: One of the things that took me way too long to realize was that there’s no one right path. When you look back at your journey, does it add up to you in just being every moment being valuable? Tyronn Lue had an expression he used with the Cavs a few years back where he said it wasn’t about wins and losses. It was about wins and lessons. I think I laughed at it at the time, but especially recently, I have held onto that and it’s become a bit of a mantra.
Joe Davis: I love that. I love that quote. I’ve never heard that. Well, first of all, I think that you’re exactly right that there is no one right path. I think that we probably all as we get going on whatever path it is we wind up going down, you worry about if this is the right way. I think that there is no one right way other than whatever path it is you get on. You’ve got to work hard. You’ve got to be a good person, and you’ve got to get some breaks. I think if you put all those things together, then you’ve got a shot, no matter what path you take.
I think that last thing you mentioned is so critical too. If the door is cracked open, don’t assume it’s going to stay that way forever. You’ve got a chance to walk through it. You’ve got to blow through that door, and you can’t look back.
Exactly. Timing is a huge thing too. Some of that is circumstantial, but some of that is setting yourself up to be in a position to take advantage of that good timing.
Whether it’s your time in Schaumburg or Montgomery, what is it about that style of baseball that allows you to take what you learn in broadcasting school but be willing to throw all of it away based on the very nature of what independent league and minor league baseball are in that sometimes you have to allow the absurdity, the playfulness in, but still allow yourself the room to be you?
I think the big thing with minor league baseball is it’s the only place you can go as a young broadcaster, whether you consider yourself a baseball broadcaster or just a sportscaster, and have a rep every single day. If you really embrace it, every single day is a chance to get better. Think how much better you’re going to be in game 140 than you were game one. As I stack the years on top of each other, year two versus year one, year three versus year two, I’ve really tried to, and I’m not perfect, but I’ve really tried to use every day as a chance to get better at something. Hopefully, those little improvements stack up into making yourself into much better as a broadcaster or whatever it is that you’re doing. I think that can apply to anything.
Reps matter. What are the reps now for you in these more marque situations, but you’re still trying to tweak, still trying to improve, still trying to be the best you can be, because if you’re not evolving, you’re falling behind?
Exactly. I think that you could look and say, okay, what a great gig, couple of gigs I’ve got here doing the Dodgers, doing the Fox stuff. Amazing. I’ve made it. Let’s settle in. I think that I realize how fortunate I am to have these spots and how many people would kill to have these spots. I think it’d be a disservice to the chair if I just rested and said, I’m good. Now, I’m still trying to use every game as a chance to get better. I tell people, having a wife and three kids now makes it a little harder to go back and listen to every minute of every broadcast like I did when I was in the minors. There are still ways to be mindful of not just going and checking a box and calling the game, really trying to be great every game with your preparation and with the way that you go back and listen to yourself. Again, that isn’t every day anymore, but once a week, once every couple of weeks, go back and really take a hard listen to what you’re doing.
I really liked that quote that you had mentioned in the New York Times from Joe Buck about how they’re not going to have a moment of silence for you when you get hit by a bus. Young guys want to be the best they can be right away, but you have to have fun with it because if you don’t, then you’re not really having that perspective of this is a job everybody grows up wanting to do. You grew up wanting to do this, or you wouldn’t be doing it. You’ve got to take a step back and be like, wow. This is pretty cool sometimes, and I imagine this is one of those weeks where the ballpark already, every time walking in a Dodger Stadium is magical, but doing so in an All-Star situation has to be one of those, “Oh, wow, I am here moments.”
I do have to let myself have those moments, especially. I’m at a place now doing the Dodgers every day where I’m much better at taking a second each day to talk about and feel — not just talk about, but to really feel how lucky I am to be sitting in that chair, and look around and soak it all in. I think when you take on something new like this, the All-Star Game, my first one, that’s harder to do. It’s hard to sit back in the chair and be like, man, how special is this? I mean, I’m forward leaning for the last couple of weeks here, packing in every second of prep that I can. Honestly, hearing you say that is a good reminder for me. Just go have fun, man. People at home don’t care if you have every nugget about every player’s entire life. They just want to turn the game on and smile.
I think that I have to let myself be myself, and I think I found this as my cruise has gone on. I let myself be myself. If any of us broadcasters let ourselves be ourselves, that’s going to come off as a much more enjoyable listen.
Wife (probably): “I’m married to a psycho”
Sister (for real): “you look like Kendall Roy”
Good times .
— Joe Davis (@Joe_Davis) July 17, 2022
I’m from the Cleveland area and grew up listening to Tom Hamilton on the radio. He’s as close to Vin as anyone gets that’s still around. I mean, Vin and him, they were having fun at the ballpark every day. Even the bad days, they’re complaining, and you’ve earned that right when you’ve done it for like 70 years. But there’s always that moment even in those games where they just let you into that world of playfulness, like can you believe this is what I’m doing every day? And if they can do that, after all those years, who are we to do the opposite?
I grew up a die-hard Cubs fan. My guy was Pat Hughes on Cubs Radio and still is. I still think he’s as good as anybody ever to do the job, and that was some of his early advice to me was … he’d be an expert on this covering some bad Cubs teams, but he said, “Anybody can be good when your team’s playing for first place and the games matter, but how can you still be good when it’s August, and you’re 25 games out of first place?” I haven’t had to deal with that because the Dodgers have been so good. I think the concept still applies where you got to attach some meaning to every game, whether that’s this game’s important in the standings, or this is a guy’s major league debut or the first time they’ve met this team. You have to attach meaning to the game when you’re doing every game like this, and then you just got to maintain that perspective. Like, man, how lucky am I? Okay, sure. It’s a grind. It’s a lot of games, and it’s every day, but my gosh, how lucky am I to be in that “grind?”
That’s the big thing. You’re trying to improve, and sometimes when you get tired, it’s hard to have perspective. I think being able to rely on the people around you too is huge. You’ve got a wealth of talent at your disposal that you’ve been able to work with or to rely on, to draw from. I’m just curious if any of those guys gave you any advice that you’re now passing on to who could be the next Joe Davis, so to speak. Whether it’s being mentored by working with someone like Joe [Buck] or Vin or having Orel [Hershiser] next to you or working with [John] Smoltz or anyone else that you’ve come across in the last few years.
There’s a couple that come right to mind. Orel is the first one. I have three kids, and my third kid’s middle name is Orel … and that’s, what else do you need to say about what the guy means to me? Getting to spend every day with my best buddy in that booth, it’s a big part of why the job is so special. Joe Buck is the guy that I grew up idolizing. He was calling all the big games when I was a kid, and I thought, how cool would it be to be like him one day? Then I come to Fox and get to meet him at some company-wide meetings and went from dreaming of being a little bit like him, to bug-eyed starstruck and meeting him, to considering him a mentor and a friend and somebody who I talked to pretty often and have gotten so much advice from. That’s a full circle, special one.
One of the cool things about the business is just how many amazing people there are who are eager to pass on the things they’ve learned. I mentioned Pat Hughes, but Len Kasper, Brian Anderson, Mike Tirico, Sean McDonough. I sound like I’m namedropping, and I don’t mean for that to be the case. The point I’m making is it’s like the list goes on and on and on of people who have helped me. Because of that, I am always so eager to help when I meet a young broadcaster and so humbled when I’m now on the other side of it and they care about what I think. Because I remember how much it meant to me when I would reach out to these guys, and I would get feedback from them, or I would even just get a response from them, how that would make my day. I always try to remember that, and I hope that’s on my tombstone that I always had time for the young broadcaster.
Now, you’ve had some time in Los Angeles, does this feel like home to you now? Midwesterners don’t always assume they’re going to end up in L.A., no matter how many ’80s movies you watched growing up.
We’ve been here, let’s see, we got here beginning of 2017, and the weather thing, people make fun of it, but it’s real, though. The fact that it’s this nice out every day, I mean, that’s a big deal for your mood and for your overall outlook on life, I think. We love it. Honestly, this Fox promotion happens, and we’re lucky to get to a point where you can have the conversation. Do we want to move back to the Midwest? Do you want to just do national stuff? There’s a couple of things. But we love the Dodger situation too much. And the other thing is my wife’s like, “I don’t really want to move home to Michigan, I love it here.” I guess that would answer your question. Yeah, it is home now.
Where are the places that you guys typically go to take a break when you have that opportunity? Because I know that free time becomes so rare, especially when you’re juggling multiple gigs.
We’re huge restaurant people. We love date nights, going and trying new restaurants. I consider myself a little bit of an L.A. restaurant expert, not too humble about that. I’ve tried enough of them where I’ve been an expert. That’s the micro; we get out and go to as many dinner date nights as we can. As far as areas to go, the morning after the All-Star Game, we’re taking the whole family to Ojai.
My wife Libby and I went for the first time in February. Loved it. Loved how it feels a million miles away from any hustle and bustle and worry, but it’s just an hour and a half away. We’re getting brave and taking the three kids for a couple of days, but we’ve done that. I’ve done Santa Barbara, Laguna, all the ones that people like to check the boxes off as they move out here to California, I think.
It’s not a place that I grew up again, thinking I’d be out here. I try to take advantage of the fact that with the weather, but the food and the culture and the fact that there’s a hundred sports teams, there’s always something that I haven’t done that then makes me want to do that more or try something else new. I think that’s the same approach that, professionally, I’m trying to take more of, is what if there’s something I don’t know? What if there’s something I haven’t tried? It could help me even in my general silo day to day.
I think that it’s important to have a relentless pursuit of growth. Never stop.
What is it about this experience that you’re having and calling an All-Star Game that has you either reflective or appreciative of that journey that you’ve been on — just because it is part of the job and you want to do a good job, but what does this mean to you in each of those steps that you’ve taken throughout your career?
I’ve been pinching myself pretty much from the moment I found out that I was getting this job, which would’ve been early March. This will be really the first marquee event that is on a level that I haven’t done. Because even in recent years I was with the A-group for much of the summer on baseball just because Buck didn’t do a ton of it. The month and a half, two months we’ve done so far, doesn’t feel much different doing the big Saturday games, because I’ve been doing that. This will be the first one where it’s different. I think that it will be important for me to take a step back and think about all the things that led to this, but also not get too caught up in that idea. Not make it bigger than it is, that whole idea like Joe told me before my first game.
They’re not going to have a moment of silence for you if you get hit by a bus on the way to the stadium because I think the job is still the same. The fundamentals of the job of being a play-by-play broadcaster remain the same. I’ll definitely take a minute to appreciate it, but pretty quickly, I’ll focus on doing the job the way that I think it should be done.
This interview has been briefly edited for clarity.