Paul Sullivan: Onetime Cubs fan finds himself following in Vin Scully’s footsteps
When Brent Barry signed a six-year, $27 million deal with the Bulls the first season after Michael Jordan’s retirement, Heat coach Pat Riley wasn’t too impressed.
“If he does well in Chicago, then obviously they think they have the next Michael Jordan,” Riley said. “Whatever.”
Barry wasn’t brought in by general manager Jerry Krause specifically to replace Jordan, but as the new shooting guard, obviously comparisons were bound to be made.
“It has been said hundreds of times that you can’t replace the guy,” Barry told the Tribune’s Terry Armour. “There’s only one Michael. It’s not about that for me. The commitment they made to me here was that I’m going to be part of the Bulls for six years. I’m part of a plan and a piece to the puzzle. They’re going to try to put together a championship team again within the next three or four seasons.”
That didn’t happen, of course, and Barry wound up being just a footnote in Bulls history.
Replacing the greatest player of all time isn’t easy, nor is replacing the greatest baseball broadcaster of all-time, as 29-year-old Joe Davis is discovering.
Davis, the Dodgers’ TV announcer, already has been asked a million times about replacing Vin Scully, who retired last fall after 67 seasons behind the mic with the Brooklyn and Los Angeles Dodgers.
“If you look at it as replacing (Scully), you have no chance, because nobody is going to replace him,” Davis said before a game at Wrigley Field. “When you look at it as a responsibility to be one of the next people in that chair, for an organization with as much history as the Dodgers have, and an organization whose history is as closely tied to its broadcasters as the Dodgers’ is, when you consider Vin’s 67 seasons, and before him another Hall of Famer in Red Barber, it is a tremendous responsibility and part of what made the job attractive to me.”
Davis grew up a die-hard Cubs fan in Potterville, Mich., listening to Len Kasper on TV and Pat Hughes on radio. He attended Beloit College, where he played football and had been recruited in 2006 by a famous alumnus, Tribune Bulls reporter K.C. Johnson.
“They knew my career aspirations and used K.C. as someone who could vouch for what Beloit could do for someone in the sports journalism industry,” Davis said. “He shared his Beloit experiences with me, and once I got to Beloit I came down and shadowed him at a Bulls game when I was a sophomore. He introduced me to a bunch of people in the industry.”
That sophomore year, Davis came to a game at Wrigley Field with a note to Kasper, but lost the letter before he got to the press box entrance. Fortunately the manager of the Wrigleyville Taco Bell called him and said someone had found the letter and turned it in. She delivered it to Kasper, who emailed Davis back and became a mentor to him.
Davis joined the Dodgers’ broadcast team last year, doing 55 road games, as Scully mostly worked only home games. He also works games for Fox, and previously worked for the Schaumburg Flyers, ESPN and three years of minor-league play-by-play with the Montgomery Biscuits, a Rays’ farm team.
While stepping into a legend’s shoes can lead to some unfair comparisons, Davis said he has been “blown away” by the positive response he has received from Dodgers fans.
“Of course your worst nightmare is that people aren’t going to like you,” he said. “So far, so good. People have been very kind with their feedback.”
Scully’s support also has helped. In an interview with Los Angeles Times columnist Bill Plaschke, Scully gave Davis some good advice.
“My prayer for him, for anyone, is maybe the hardest thing – be yourself,” Scully said. “When he starts, and for the 100 years he might be there, the big thing is to be yourself.”
Now that he has to bleed Dodger blue, Davis has been forced to put his Cub fandom in a blind trust of sorts. He admitted it was strange last June doing a Dodgers game at Wrigley after he had grown up rooting for the Cubs.
“What kind of timing is that?” he said. “You sign away your Cub fandom before the 2016 season? The first game I did for Fox was a Pirates-Cubs game a couple of years ago. It was like I was floating, an out-of-body experience with Len to my right, Pat to my left, guys who have mentored me. There are constant reminders of ‘Holy Cow, I’m really here.’ “