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Joe Davis Gets The Chance To Be The Voice Of Baseball

“It was one of those things that was like, ‘Okay, I’ll believe this when I see it.’ I imagined Joe Buck would be at Fox calling the World Series and the Super Bowl forever.”

Derek Futterman

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As the Los Angeles Rams came back to defeat the San Francisco 49ers in the 2022 NFC Championship Game, a conversation was being had behind closed doors in The City of Angels. The NFC Championship Game could very well have been the final time Joe Buck and Troy Aikman, an iconic duo spanning two decades in the booth together, would broadcast a game on Fox Sports. Aikman’s contract with Fox Sports expired at the conclusion of this past season, and after negotiations, he inked a five-year deal to call Monday Night Football on ESPN. Buck followed soon after. That opened up two jobs to a pool of candidates – the network’s lead football and baseball announcer.

Fox Sports announced the promotion of Kevin Burkhardt as its lead football play-by-play announcer in late March, making him the voice of the Super Bowl for two of the next three seasons. Now it was up to the network to tab its new lead play-by-play announcer for its coverage of Major League Baseball.

Taking the seat of a legend is nothing new for Joe Davis. As the television play-by-play voice of the Los Angeles Dodgers, Davis replaced Vin Scully at 28 years old and has been a distinctive part of the soundtrack of signature moments for baseball’s most consistent contender over the last five years.

Davis’ interest in broadcasting began at a young age, growing up as a sports fan in Potterville, Michigan. His father was a football coach and sports were a consistent part of everyday life, making it easy for Davis to envision himself working in sports in the future.

While majoring in communications and journalism at Beloit College, Davis honed his skills both on the field as a quarterback and in the booth as a broadcaster. As an undergraduate student, Davis was the voice of Beloit Buccaneers baseball and basketball during the winter and spring, and played quarterback for the school’s division-three football team in the fall. Having an understanding of the perspective of an athlete as a broadcaster is something that has served to benefit Davis throughout his career thus far, especially in realizing his place in certain settings.

“It gave me a sense for my place in the clubhouse or in the locker room having been on the other side [and] knowing what exactly goes into being a player and where I stood once I became a broadcaster,” said Davis. “Not being a nuisance [and] kind of being seen but not heard, especially at first.”

As a result of his work ethic and desire to improve his skills, his rise in the industry was expeditious, to say the least, upon his college graduation in 2010. In the span of seven years, Davis served as the play-by-play announcer for the Double-A Montgomery Biscuits, called college sports for ESPN and Comcast Southeast and worked as a studio host for the Baylor Bears. In 2014, Davis was hired by Fox Sports to call both college football and basketball games, along with appearing on select Major League Baseball broadcasts.

Throughout his time in college and early days in the industry, Davis developed somewhat of an announcing style, or as he refers to it, discovering just who he was on the air and allowing for him to show his personality. Calling multiple sports and maintaining that identity, as daunting as it may sound, is something Davis has embraced, allowing him to move far into the industry at a rapid pace.

“From sport to sport, I love that I get to do multiple sports,” said Davis. “They’re all so different in the prep and then in the act of actually calling the games. I think that it’s nothing but a good thing.”

Davis has worked with the Dodgers since the 2016 season, albeit his beginning in a limited role as an alternate play-by-play announcer. During Vin Scully’s final season, he and Dodgers radio play-by-play announcer Charley Steiner filled in for Scully on games he was unable to call. Upon Scully’s final game of his legendary career, the Dodgers announced their new broadcast booth for the 2017 season, featuring 1988 World Series Champion and all-star pitcher Orel Hershiser as the color commentator with Davis as the primary play-by-play announcer on Spectrum SportsNet LA

Every day he enters the Dodgers’ television booth, Joe Davis recognizes the magnitude of the role and the weight Scully’s legacy garners, keeping him inspired and motivated to perform the role to the best of his ability.

“Knowing that when I sit in that Dodger chair everyday, I think about the fact that for 67 years, the best ever to do this job was in that chair, and the responsibility that comes with being the person to follow Vin is a big part of what makes the Dodger job special,” said Davis.

Throughout his time with the Los Angeles Dodgers, the team has finished with a winning record; in fact, the team has not finished with a losing record since the 2010 season. Davis realizes that he has been and remains fortunate to call games for a franchise in a large media market with a steadfast commitment to winning and the resources to do it on a year-by-year basis.

“We talk all the time about how lucky we are to be doing Dodgers games. I say [that] half-jokingly – but really it is only half-jokingly; I’m somewhat serious,” said Davis. “I think part of the reason I’m still here [and] people haven’t run me out of town is because I’m delivering good news. People like to hear good news and people like to watch a winner, and thankfully this team since I’ve gotten here has been so, so good.”

In covering a talented team with bona fide superstars including Mookie Betts, Clayton Kershaw, Freddie Freeman and Walker Buehler, along with a surplus of quality depth at both the major league and minor league levels, high-pressure situations yielding dramatic “Hollywood-esque” finishes are abundant. An aspect of Davis’ announcing style is his ability to thrive in these situations, something his predecessor Scully did exceptionally well. Part of the reason Davis has made iconic calls early in his career highlighted by exclamations including “Absolute madness” and “You are ridiculous” comes from advice Scully gave him, along with his own background as an athlete.

“You almost have to think like a player and take a deep breath and really relax and not put pressure on yourself,” said Davis. “I don’t think you script big moments, but I do think it’s important to anticipate the big moments coming and then think to yourself, ‘If this big moment that I’m anticipating coming happens, what is the bigger context around that?’”

By recognizing the context surrounding big moments – such as win streaks, changes in the standings, career milestones, etc. – Davis has been able to succeed behind the mic no matter the scenario. Whether it be a spring training game, the regular season or the postseason, he knows how to appropriately articulate a moment for his viewing audience; however, it requires being prudent and giving each moment of the game some forethought.

“I’m not smart enough to have that moment happen and do it justice – to put a proper caption on it,” said Davis. “I think that it requires doing a little thinking [in] anticipating the moment coming.”

Recognizing his audience is indeed consuming the game both visually and aurally, Davis has been able to differentiate between calling a game on television despite getting his start in radio. Throughout his career, Vin Scully called Dodgers games on television while the team simulcast the first three innings of every matchup on the radio during his final season. A salient point Davis underscores though, especially when talking to younger broadcasters making a transition from one medium to the other, is not to overthink their multitude of differences, but rather to embrace their similarities.

“There are obvious differences [and] there are subtle differences, but… I don’t think it’s good to overthink the difference. I hear a lot of times when people are making that transition from radio to TV and [when] I listen to the TV tape, I can hear them thinking: ‘Okay, I need to talk less. I need to call it this way because it’s TV, not radio.’ I don’t think it’s healthy to overthink it.”

Another point of differentiation between the two mediums comes in the implementation of the analyst into the broadcast. The Dodgers television booth had not had an analyst in recent memory prior to Herscheiser, as Scully called the games solo over much of his career.

Davis’ most memorable moment as a broadcaster came while filling in for Joe Buck on Fox Sports’ broadcast of Game 7 of the 2020 National League Championship Series. Ironically enough, Davis’ local team, the Los Angeles Dodgers, faced the Atlanta Braves with a World Series-berth on the line. After Enrique Hernández hit a home run to tie the game 3-3 in the sixth inning, Dodgers slugger Cody Bellinger crushed a towering home run to right field to put the team on top 4-3, sending the franchise to its first World Series since 1988 – one they would eventually win in six games.

“It was a special thing… because I was sitting in Joe’s chair and I got to send a team to the World Series,” recalled Davis. “The icing on the cake was that it was the team I cover on a daily basis.”

The exhilaration of that moment on a national broadcast was something Davis hoped to be able to experience again in his career. High-pressure situations are where Davis has historically thrived in the booth, and he recently stepped into another one with his ultimate career goal in the balance.

Once it had been reported that Fox had given Joe Buck permission to pursue other jobs after it had lost Troy Aikman to ESPN, Joe Davis knew he had a legitimate shot to take over lead play-by-play duties, but was unsure whether he would be granted the monumental opportunity. The anticipation of this moment, potentially being afforded the chance to call baseball’s marquee matchups including the World Series, was something Davis had been dreaming about since he was in his youth.

“I started to read all the same stuff that all of us were reading as far as ESPN being interested in Joe Buck,” said Davis. “It was one of those things that was like, ‘Okay, I’ll believe this when I see it.’ I imagined Joe Buck would be at Fox calling the World Series and the Super Bowl forever.”

 Just as he does in high-intensity moments within the scope of a game, Davis tried not to get too ahead of himself as the process of finding Buck’s successor was underway. But with the possibility of a promotion he so genuinely desired looming in the background, Davis admitted that he struggled to remain calm throughout the process.

“[I] was checking my phone all the time; waiting for updates; waiting for calls; and hoping that something would break. It seemed like forever before anything happened.”

As his apprehension grew and a resolution neared, Davis remembered how as a child, he would watch the World Series and listen to Buck call the games, aspiring to one day follow in his footsteps.

“One of the coolest things for me has been to go from looking up to him [and] not knowing him – just admiring him and wanting to be a little like him – [to] getting to meet him as I came to Fox, and now being able to call him a friend and a mentor,” said Davis.

The time had finally come. While Davis was in Las Vegas calling the Pac-12 Basketball Tournament, Fox Sports President of Production/Operations and Executive Producer Brad Zager flew in from Los Angeles to deliver him a message – one that he had been waiting to receive since he was 10 years old.

“‘I’m here to offer you a chance to be the voice of baseball,’” Davis recalled Zager telling him in their meeting.

Earlier this month, Fox officially named Joe Davis as its lead play-by-play announcer, a role in which he will join National Baseball Hall of Fame member and 1995 World Series champion John Smoltz in the booth. In his new role, Davis will be the voice of the World Series each year, along with announcing other premier matchups and special events, including the 2022 MLB All-Star Game and MLB at Field of Dreams Game. Additionally, he will remain the voice of the Los Angeles Dodgers on Spectrum SportsNet LA.

“If you had asked me when I was 10 what do you want to do, I would have told you: ‘I want to call the World Series,’” said Davis. “A World Series Game 7 would be just incredible, but… looking at my regular season schedule, it’s awesome. It’s all the marquee teams and the marquee games…. I’m not going to stop pinching myself – that’s for sure.”

Davis will make his debut as Fox’s lead MLB play-by-play announcer on May 28 when the Philadelphia Phillies take on the New York Mets. The game will be played at Citi Field, which is modeled after Ebbets Field – the former home of the Brooklyn Dodgers – the place where Vin Scully got his start on the airwaves.

“I have fun covering these games,” said Davis. “Letting that love and joy for the game come through on the air; presenting the current game as one that is special; and these people and these players within the game – presenting their stories as special. I think the foundation to it all is genuinely loving the game as it is right now.”

BSM Writers

NBC Must Develop a Real No. 2 NFL Crew for Playoffs

Is the network’s only other option Jac Collinsworth and Jason Garrett?

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Several years ago, the NFL objected to NBC wanting to employ Mike Tirico as the lead play-by-play voice for its Thursday Night Football broadcasts. The league preferred Al Michaels because he was NBC’s No. 1 NFL play-by-play announcer and wanted the TNF telecasts to carry the same prestige as Sunday Night Football.

Following the network’s heavily-criticized broadcast of Saturday’s Wild Card playoff game between the Los Angeles Chargers and Jacksonville Jaguars, the NFL may want to impose its authority again and insist that a top-tier broadcast team call the action of an important postseason game.

The consensus among fans and media watching Saturday’s broadcast was that Michaels and analyst Tony Dungy were surprisingly low-energy for an NFL playoff game, let alone one that became so exciting with Jacksonville rallying from a 27-0 deficit for a 31-30 victory on a last-second field goal.

Such a lackluster broadcast led to questions of whether or not Michaels was now past his prime after a season of calling subpar TNF games for Amazon and what initially appeared to be another snoozer when the Jaguars fell behind by 27 points. Pairing him with Dungy, who was a studio analyst all season, certainly didn’t help.

Dungy was as basic as a game analyst could be, typically narrating replays viewers could see for themselves while adding little insight. Worst of all, he demonstrated no enthusiasm for the action, leaving Michaels to fill most of the airtime. The veteran broadcaster showed that he can no longer carry a broadcast by himself. He needs the energy and back-and-forth that Cris Collinsworth or Kirk Herbstreit provide.

So how did NBC get here?

Most football fans know that the network’s top broadcast team is Tirico on play-by-play alongside analyst Cris Collinsworth. But they had their own assignment during Super Wild Card Weekend, calling Sunday night’s Ravens-Bengals match-up. With the postseason field expanding from 12 to 14 teams, resulting in six games being played on Wild Card weekend, NBC was awarded one of the additional playoff broadcasts.

Thus, another broadcast team was needed for that second Wild Card game. Fortunately, NBC had a renowned play-by-play man already in place. Michaels finished out his final season as SNF‘s lead voice by calling Super Bowl LVI, part of a powerful one-two combination for NBC Sports coming toward the end of its 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics coverage.

Ending his legendary career with a Super Bowl broadcast would’ve been a wonderful final note for Michaels. That appeared to be a natural path when Tirico moved from ESPN to NBC in 2016. Network executives admitted that a succession plan was in mind for Tirico to take over SNF eventually. At the time, Michaels also likely thought he would retire by then.

But when confronted with the possibility of retirement, Michaels realized he wasn’t interested. He was still enjoying broadcasting the NFL. His skills were still sharp. And perhaps most importantly, he was in demand. Amazon wanted Michaels as the lead voice for its Thursday Night Football broadcasts, bringing instant credibility to a streaming venture that drew some skepticism. ESPN considered him as its Monday Night Football play-by-play man.

As it turned out, ESPN made a bold move for MNF, swiping Fox’s No. 1 NFL crew of Joe Buck and Troy Aikman. That left Amazon for Michaels, and the streaming giant paid him a commensurate salary with the top broadcasters in the industry as part of his three-year contract.

Yet Michaels wasn’t done with NBC either. After his agreement with Amazon became official, NBC announced that its relationship with Michaels would continue in an “emeritus” role allowing him to broadcast the network’s Olympics coverage and that additional Wild Card playoff telecast.

NBC can’t have been happy that most of the social media chatter afterward focused on the broadcast, rather than the game result. Especially when the discussion centered on how poorly Michaels and Dungy performed in what turned out to be a thrilling playoff game. That’s a pairing that the NFL probably doesn’t want to see again.

Michaels will likely call at least one more Wild Card playoff game for NBC since he intends to work on the 2024 Paris Summer Olympics. He’s also under contract with Amazon for another two seasons unless he decides to retire before that deal expires. So perhaps the simple solution is keeping Dungy out of the broadcast booth and giving Michaels a better partner.

But can NBC drop in another analyst who hasn’t worked with Michaels all season? Anyone would arguably be an improvement over Dungy. Is it at all possible for Herbstreit to be hired on for a one-off playoff broadcast, thus ensuring that the broadcast team will have some on-air familiarity and chemistry?

Otherwise, NBC’s only other option may be its Notre Dame broadcast team of Jac Collinsworth and Jason Garrett. (The network tried that last season with Tirico and Drew Brees, only for Brees to wilt under the harsher NFL playoff spotlight.)

The pair also called USFL broadcasts for the network, so at least there would be familiarity rather than trying to figure each other out during a telecast. Yet Collinsworth and Garrett aren’t terribly popular with viewers. And as with Brees, that crew will face intense scrutiny with a larger playoff audience.

Unfortunately, NBC appears to be stuck here. Unless the new Big Ten broadcast team of Noah Eagle and Todd Blackledge gets a shot. That might be the best option! Other than Notre Dame or USFL games, where are the other opportunities for NBC to develop a No. 2 NFL broadcast team? No one wants to put Al Michaels through Chris Simms in the broadcast booth, right?

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BSM Writers

Al Michaels Has Options But He Has To Make a Choice

“It does all of us in the sports industry well to remember 99% of our audience would gladly trade places with us.”

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I don’t ask much out of game announcers; get excited when appropriate, get the simple information correct, don’t get so caught up in your shtick you put yourself above the game. Al Michaels has been doing all those things well for the better part of half a century and few would argue that he’s not one of the best to ever do it. That doesn’t mean he can’t lose his fastball.

Before you read any longer, I am not here to say Al Michaels has lost his fastball. What I am here to say is Michaels has all too often this season seemed upset with and disinterested in the game he is calling. That isn’t entirely surprising when you consider some of the Thursday night action he called on Amazon Prime where the average margin of victory was almost nine points per game.

On top of that, the Amazon schedule had a dreadful two week stretch with Colts 12-9 win over the Broncos in Week Five and the Commanders 12-7 win over the Bears the next Thursday. It was in that Broncos-Colts game Michaels asked Herbstreit if a game “can be so bad it is good?” Herbstreit’s answer was “No”, by the way. It was the full 15 game schedule that Michaels told The Athletic’s media critic Richard Deitsch was like trying to sell a used car.

All of that is fine, the inaugural Amazon Prime season was not a smashing success. The streaming giant missed audience projections and will lose advertising revenue because of it. The lackluster schedule did not help that. But Michaels was given a second life; he was the NBC play-by-play announcer for the Saturday Night Wildcard Playoff game between the Chargers and Jaguars. It initially looked like Michaels might be the problem as five first half Jags turnovers had them in a 27-0 hole. But the home team staged a nearly unprecedented comeback for the win.

It was the performance by Michaels and, to a lesser degree, his analyst Tony Dungy that has led to criticism. Criticism might be too soft of a word, Michaels was roundly dragged for his lack of enthusiasm during the comeback and specifically on his call of the Jacksonville game winning field goal. The enthusiasm of the call of the game winner had a mid-3rd quarter of week four feel to it.

Me telling Al Michaels how to do play-by-play of an NFL game would be the equivalent of me telling a physicist how to split an atom. So, this isn’t just a Michaels criticism, few things bother me more than hearing a game announcer complain about the length or quality of a game as if he’d rather be anywhere else. It does all of us in the sports industry well to remember 99% of our audience would gladly trade places with us.

How many NFL viewers would sit in the seat Michaels, or any NFL announcer occupies, for free? They’d feel like they won the lottery if they also were getting the money those announcers are getting paid to be there. The guy that works a 12-hour Thursday construction shift just to get home and crack a beer for the NFL game probably doesn’t want to hear how tough that game is to announce.

On top of all of that, Michaels was given the gift of one of the wildest NFL Playoff comebacks you’ll ever see and, at times, sounded as if he was completely disinterested in being there. Pro tip: the best NFL announcer in those moments is Kevin Harlan (see: Miami at Baltimore from earlier this season. That has nothing to do with my lifelong Dolphins fandom). Michaels’ lack of enthusiasm was compounded by the exact opposite from Mike Tirico on the very same network for the Bengals-Ravens Wildcard game Sunday night. 

Tirico, like Michaels, has a sterling resume of play-by-play accomplishments. The difference is Tirico sounded like he was having the time of his life on Sunday night. 

To be fair, their two styles are different. Michaels has a very old school, Pat Summerall approach. Summerall, Vin Scully and Dick Enberg came along at a time when announcers were far more likely to let the pictures tell the story. More new school guys like Harlan and Tirico approach it differently.

Look, Al Michaels helped us believe in miracles. His place in the Sports Broadcaster’s Hall of Fame has long since been cemented. Being a hall of fame inductee doesn’t mean your style will forever be accepted by the masses. That leaves you with a few options; you can continue your style and accept or ignore the criticism or you can ride off into the sunset and enjoy the fruits of your decades of labor.

Al Michaels has what we all want; great options. He can choose any of them and be a winner in the game of life. It doesn’t matter if he enthusiastically embraces them, or not. 

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BSM Writers

Bernie Kosar Was the Victim of a Policy That Doesn’t Work Anymore

“The NFL has bigger fish to fry than Bernie Kosar. Hell, it has more pressing issues in Cleveland alone.”

Demetri Ravanos

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One week ago, Bernie Kosar lost his job on the Browns Radio Network for placing the first legal sports bet in the state of Ohio. Kosar, just like Jets coach Miles Austin weeks earlier and Calvin Ridley last year, violated a league policy that forbids team employees from placing a bet on any NFL game.

The integrity of the games still matters. The belief that what we are all seeing is being fairly contested is what gives those of us that like to have a little vested interest in the outcome the desire to lay our money down in the first place. I get the league’s discomfort with a coach on the staff of a team in the middle of the playoff hunt making bets. I get its fear of the message it sends to have players making bets.

Roger Goodell and the 32 team owners are well within their rights to object to men that can potentially control the outcome of a game or postseason seeding doing anything that even appears to jeopardize its fairness. Even perceived impropriety can compromise the league’s tremendous value.

But Bernie Kosar doesn’t have that kind of influence on the outcome of a game. He is just a broadcaster and not even a game analyst. He is part of studio coverage.

I am far from the first to point this out, but in 2023, the NFL has three official sports betting partners. Just last week, it approved the first ever in-stadium sportsbook, which Fanatics is set to open inside of FedEx Field. If the NFL is comfortable enough with the reality that its fans like to bet to make those things a reality, then Kosar losing his gig is absurd. It is the result of nothing other than “well, that’s the way we’ve always done it” thinking.

Maybe Kosar was terrible on the radio and the team was looking for a reason to move on. I don’t live in Cleveland and I am not a Browns fan, so I have no idea.

How many times have we heard that NFL owners hired Goodell to “protect the shield”? I’m not even really sure what it means or when it applies anymore. If I had a vested interest in the public perception of the league, I know that I would want someone to do the PR math on this situation.

Bernie Kosar isn’t an addict that can’t watch a game without the high of winning or the emotional distress of losing everything at stake, at least not as far as we know. This was a bet made through an advertising partner, to benefit charity. He even said on his podcast this week that the purpose of making the bet was to generate some money for former players in need of help.

This is like Disney threatening daycare centers with lawsuits for painting Mickey Mouse on a classroom wall. The NFL has bigger fish to fry than Bernie Kosar. Hell, it has more pressing issues in Cleveland alone.

Surely you have seen Garrett Bush’s impassioned rant on the Ultimate Cleveland Sports Show about the obstacles facing Damar Hamlin because of how many hoops the NFL makes former players jump through in order to get some kind of pension.

On January 2, we were all united in our concern for a guy that hadn’t even completed his second full NFL season. We didn’t know if he was going to live, but if he did, we all knew that the NFL had done everything it needed to in order to protect itself from ever having to pay a dime for his medical care. Less than a week later, Bernie Kosar was fired for what amounted to a charity stunt that was meant to raise money and attention to very similar issues.

At both the league level and the team level, there was incompetence that lead to a man unnecessarily losing a gig and to the Browns and the NFL looking horribly out of touch with reality.

Are we acknowledging that people gamble or not? Are we acknowledging there are responsible ways to bet on football and are interested in generating revenue off of it or not? Because it doesn’t seem to me that the same league that just gave the thumbs up to open a sportsbook inside of a stadium is really that concerned with people that cannot affect the outcome of games betting on those games.

Has the NFL come out and said that it is going to cover every medical bill for everyone that has ever played the game? We know that this is a brutal game that leaves a physical and physiological impact on the men that played it. Why would we make it harder for someone that knows that pain to help others do something about it?

I feel awful for Bernie Kosar. Whether he needs the money or not, it is embarassing to be at the center of a controversy like this, particularly because in the NFL in 2023, there is no reason for a controversy like this to exist.

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