The Fox Sports baseball announcing team of analyst John Smoltz and play-by-play man Joe Davis make the call for some All-Star Q&A with Post columnist Steve Serby.
Q: John, describe the adjustment you had to make from Joe Buck to Joe Davis.
Smoltz: There really wasn’t much. You talk about me breaking in with one of the best all-time was awesome for me.
I just can’t even begin to tell you how smooth and easy that was to work with Joe Buck.
Doing games with Joe Davis, even leading up to his first year, you get a relationship and a rapport, and it’s really been an easy and seamless transition — even though it’s a little different styles.
As an analyst, all you’re trying to do, just like a pitcher-catcher situation, you learn the rhythms and you learn the style, so that it becomes seamless and you don’t step on each other.
You know when to jump in, you know when not to jump in.
Q: Joe, how difficult a challenge was broadcasting your first All-Star Game last year?
Davis: It was a challenge in that I had no blueprint for how to prep or how I would feel once I did it.
I don’t know if difficult is the word, I think that it was more just very different than any game that I’ve ever done.
It felt much more like a variety show, and I think that’s OK.
Q: How would you describe your style?
Davis: I try to have a lot of fun.
You want people at home to feel like somebody’s enjoying what they’re watching, and you want the people at home to feel joy from the announcers.
Try to nail the basics.
There’s nothing that loses credibility faster than getting a name wrong or getting a fact wrong.
That’s something I’ve always prided myself on is making sure I’m nailing those.
And then, on television, it’s the analyst’s medium, people don’t really care what I have to say, they want to hear what the Hall of Famer John Smoltz has to say.
So I do my best to steer those guys where they want to go, and all the whole make it as fun as we can.
Q: John, how would you describe Joe Davis’ style?
Smoltz: I would say Joe Davis, in the shoes that he’s filling — are you kiddin’ me?
Vin [Scully] and then Joe Buck — you gotta have confidence, and that’s the one thing that he’s really professional at his job. … There’s not a game he shows up where it’s like he’s not ready and totally prepared.
I think his style is somewhere between Vin Scully and Joe Buck, meaning Vin did a game kind of by himself and a lot of information, and I think the blend of what Joe Davis has been able to bring to the booth is that information blended with he’s young, he’s got energy, and … we come from the same part of the country, grew up 10-15 minutes apart in Michigan.
We share a lot of the same likes and stuff.
You go from the veteran of all-time to the up-and-coming and now who knows how long Joe Davis [will] do this?
Q: John, how would you characterize your style?
Smoltz: I want to be prepared, and look at all the information I could look at to help me formulate a game plan for the game that I’m doing.
I’m trying to bring situations of what I did and what I learned and what I’m learning about the current game, and give somebody a sense of something they would never know before.
My broadcasting style is, if you know the game your whole life, you’ll understand what I’m saying, and if it’s the first game you’re watching, I think you’ll understand what I’m saying, ’cause hopefully I’m explaining it that way.
I never wanted the game to come across as you speak down to somebody, or that the game was easy.
Q: How would you describe the chemistry between you and Smoltz?
Davis: John and I have been working together since 2017, 2018, so we had that foundation in place.
And honestly I think that it began just with our both growing up about 15 minutes apart in mid-Michigan, and being long-suffering Lions fans.
I think through the years we’ve developed a really good understanding for each other as people and as broadcasters.
He’s a great partner that helps me go to where I need to go and hope that I do the same for him and that comes across as a really enjoyable and entertaining listen for people.
Q: John, describe your first All-Star Game as a broadcaster, in 2015.
Smoltz: I was kind of warned by Joe Buck, he’s like, “This is crazy, the atmosphere for an analyst, and you’re gonna feel like you’re not talking much, but that’s OK.”
And he was right … it’s such a fast-paced game. It felt like I was just watching and enjoying the All-Star Game, it was pretty cool.
Q: That’s a big challenge for a broadcaster who is not familiar working the All-Star Game.
Smoltz: There’s nothing like it. I got used to it, and I understand the flow of it obviously now.
It’s so much coming at you, right — so many players trying to get in, so many changes.
Q: Joe, what are the biggest lesson you learned from Vin Scully?
Davis: So many of ’em. … One of the very first things that he told me was, and I pinch myself anytime that I relay this story ’cause it’s basically secondhand advice from Red Barber: Red Barber told him when he took the job, “Be yourself. Don’t try to be somebody that you’re not. You can listen to the people that you like and take things from them, listen to the people that you don’t like, avoid those things, but don’t water your own lawn.”
In that position where I was following Vin [with the Dodgers] as the greatest ever to do it, or following Joe in the Fox chair, I think that human nature is to try and copy what had been so successful in that position for so long.
So I very frequently think about that advice from Vin in following him and then in following Joe — just to let yourself be yourself.
Q: You never approached following Joe Buck as pressure?
Davis: Same idea as following Vin, where I think that if you were looking at it as, “OK, there’s a lot of pressure,” which … look, I know that there is, but I think if that’s how you’re channeling it, that’s probably not gonna be good for anybody … not gonna be good for me, probably not gonna be a real fun listen for the people at home, and so I try to look at it more as part of what made it such a cool opportunity, and more like a responsibility than a pressure-packed role.
I know it’s semantics, but I guess I’m able to trick myself a little bit when I look at it that way.
Q: Compelling All-Star Game stories?
Davis: There’s a very obvious one in Shohei Ohtani, who’s doing something that’s never been done, when you look at the longevity of this two-way run for him, he’s even surpassed Babe Ruth. … Luis Arraez in his chase for .400, not many guys have taken it this deep into the season.
And Ronald Acuña … he was as dynamic as anybody, and then he tears his ACL and he has it all taken away for a while.
There’s some stories out there about how he really doubted he was ever gonna get back, and he spent weeks after that surgery daily crying, just not thinking it was ever gonna happen again.
And to not only have him back to being dynamic, but a whole level above what he was even in his next days.
Q: In 25 words or less, describe All-Star Spencer Strider.
Smoltz: He has an electric fastball.
He’s a unique pitcher. Knows his body. Hard to hit.
And the future is so bright if he stays healthy.
Q: Sean Murphy?
Davis: Somebody that has been really good for longer than I think we’ve realized.
Man, oh man, is this guy a well-rounded player.
Q: Zac Gallen?
Smoltz: Zac is a guy that I kind of love to watch [pitching].
You’re not gonna be wowed by miles per hour, he’s a pitcher.
And he probably has some pretty good inner confidence, which is what you gotta have.
Q: Freddie Freeman?
Davis: Steady Freddie.
To see him play every day, like we’re lucky enough to, is to truly appreciate kind of the subtle, mind-numbing greatness that is Freddie Freeman offensively.
Q: Justin Steele?
Smoltz: That guy comes out of nowhere for me. He’s got a fastball that spins in an unorthodox way, cuts.
He has that “it” factor, where they can’t see the ball that well.
And every pitcher’s dream is to have that where the hitter can’t pick up the spin or just can’t square up the fastball.
There’s nothing fancy about him, he just says, “Here you go, try and hit it.”
Q: Luis Arraez?
Davis: He’s kind of a unicorn in this day and age, isn’t he?
Here’s a guy hitting line drives all over the field, not hitting it particularly hard, but doing something that’s not been done in a really long time, flirting with .400 this deep into the year.
Q: Marcus Stroman?
Smoltz: He’s kind of the Broadway showman, like strutting out there like he’s 6-foot-8.
He’s got a lot of showmanship to him and he is the king of the hill. I like that.
Hitters may not like it, but he’s gonna give it to you with his sinker, and he believes he’s the best player on the field, and you gotta have that.
Q: Orlando Arcia?
Davis: He might be at the top of the list of biggest surprises, I think, All-Star starters at least.
Q: Gerrit Cole?
Smoltz: Dominating stuff, and a guy who can single-handedly take over a game when he’s right, 99 [mph] comes out of his hand really easy, and he spins it.
It just looks like his action of throwing the baseball looks just easy, and that’s a dream of a pitcher.
Q: Ronald Acuña?
Davis: Ohtani’s in his own league just because of the obvious, he’s two players in one.
But there is nobody more electric offensively right now than Ronald Acuña Jr.
Q: Sonny Gray?
Smoltz: I’ve always liked Sonny Gray.
He’s a guy who’s been through it all, failed.
He had to get back the confidence after struggling in New York.
He’s gritty and he’s in the kind of Stroman category as far as stature and his stuff plays.
Q: Mookie Betts?
Davis: He’s 5-9, but he’s on pace for 40-some home runs.
He’s added some bat speed, added some weight, he got stronger, and he’s hitting for power like never before.
Q: Nathan Eovaldi?
Smoltz: Nolan Ryan’s all I can think of, and I’m sure that’s who he idolized.
He’s a big, strong, country with just a dominant arm.
When he stays on top of his fastball, no one’s gonna touch it.
Q: Corbin Carroll?
Davis: He’s a guy who probably not enough people are talking about.
He might be the best guy in the National League that people don’t look at yet at the top on the list of the best players.
He’s been, you could make a pretty good argument, the second-best player in the National League this year behind Ronald Acuña Jr.
Q: Kevin Gausman?
Smoltz: Kevin Gausman, to me, kind of reinvented himself. Been through the whole gauntlet, had some injuries. … That splitter is what makes Kevin really difficult to hit.
When you can repeat your mechanics and throw the ball out of the same lane that he does out of his fastball, that splitter becomes a weapon.
Q: J.D. Martinez?
Davis: Down year last year in Boston, comes to the Dodgers, gets reunited with his old personal hitting coach Robert Van Scoyoc, and resurgent year for him.
He’s the oldest All-Star at 35.
Q: Framber Valdez?
Smoltz: He’s one of my lefties to watch.
He is a cool customer that had learned how to manage his emotions and get confidence because he has natural sink and movement at nasty 95 [mph] that you just don’t get to see.
He pitches like he’s got a brick wall in front of him, which is great ’cause he lands and he’s just in command it seems like with everything he does. And what a great curveball.
He can spin that curveball anytime he wants. love watching him pitch.
Q: Jonah Heim?
Davis: Another one of those guys where, coming into the year, [if] you said he’s gonna be an All-Star, I don’t think many people would have agreed with you.
Q: Yandy Diaz?
Davis: He’s always been a high-average, high on-base guy, but this year he started swinging for power, too.
Q: Marcus Semien?
Davis: Somebody who’s underappreciated for sure.
He plays every day, has for years, and kind of the quiet tone-setter for the turnaround in Texas.
Q: Corey Seager?
Davis: He’s been crushing the ball lately and is part of a really scary Texas lineup.
Q: Wander Franco?
Davis: Dynamic young player. It’s a shame he was an injury replacement onto the roster, ’cause he’s certainly been an All-Star-caliber player all year.
Q: Randy Arozarena?
Davis: Seems like any time this guy plays on a big stage he owns it.
Q: How much admiration do you have for Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander?
Smoltz: They’re generational pitchers, they’ve crossed over two different philosophies of the way you pitch and the way you play the game and they’ve survived both.
They are throwbacks to how they go about their business, and we’ll never see anything like it again.
I say openly that if you’re a young pitcher, if you don’t model yourself after Justin Verlander, I don’t know who you’re looking at, ’cause to me, he could pitch in any generation, and you can’t say that about a lot of pitchers.
Max Scherzer’s always kind of had this indirect chip on his shoulder, and rightfully so, ’cause everyone said he couldn’t pitch past three, five, six years the way he threw, his mechanics were always gonna get him hurt was the narrative.
Q: Do you expect to see the best versions of themselves on the second half?
Smoltz: Absolutely. If these kind of players are healthy, there’s no way they don’t figure it out.
I just think the new changes and certainly the injuries affected Verlander in a way where when he gets in a groove you’ll see an eight-out-of-10 spurt where they run off those victories.
Q: How long do you think they can pitch at a high level?
Smoltz: I think the way that the style of hitting exists today and the way that they can manipulate a baseball, I think two for sure to three more years for Verlander.
Without a doubt. Max, maybe two more years.
But it’s always up to the individual and how hard they want to keep putting in the work, because as you get older, you lose a little foot on your fastball here or there, but they know how to change angles and change the ball in positions where the hitter’s trying to hit it out of the ballpark.
You navigate your mind to know that you’re not gonna be pitching to the dominant level you once were, but you can still pitch and be effective and help your team win.
Q: Kodai Senga?
Smoltz: I think Senga’s finally gotten through that transition period.
I think he’s on his way to being a dynamic pitcher for the New York Mets.
Nobody envisioned the hole that the Mets were gonna be in, but if there’s a way they get out of it, it’s because of the three guys you just mentioned get on a consistent roll.
Q: You can see them as a wild card?
Smoltz: Yes. The Mets for me are still a very dangerous team when they start clicking.
Offensively, I felt like they’re a much better team than what they’ve been the whole first half for whatever reason.
When you lose games you’re not supposed to lose, it affects everybody in different ways, but it affects everybody in a mental way.
The hitting feels like they gotta score more, the pitching feels like they gotta shut people down.
When baseball is played correctly, you hide your warts and everyone kind of does normal things.
When everyone else has to feel like they gotta pick up the slack or so extraordinary things, that is tough to play baseball in 162. … I don’t see any signs that point past health that would get me to feel like they’re not as good as the top third teams in the National League.
Q: Francisco Alvarez?
Smoltz: Ball of energy, right? Like a bull in a china shop it seems like.
Davis: Somebody that the Mets could use a few of right now, right? Seems like a future All-Star.
Q: Anthony Volpe?
Smoltz: I don’t know who had more pressure on him in baseball right now other than Volpe. You’re talking about comparisons, and replacing — whenever you do that, that’s just not fair.
Give him time, and I think you’re gonna see the same kind of progress over time [that] people expected right away. Everyone loves a good story, everyone loves a hometown kid … but try and be that hometown kid that’s playing a position that Derek Jeter held.
Davis: It’s always going to be that he gets compared to Derek Jeter … that’s an impossibly high bar for any player, I don’t care how good the kid is. It’s gonna take time before he blossoms, but I think that he will.
Q: What do you guys think of Jeter in the Fox studio with Alex Rodriguez and David Ortiz?
Smoltz: I’m glad he’s staying in the game in this way. We need guys like him to stay in it and represent it.
Davis: I got to spend some time with those guys in London for the Cubs and Cardinals series.
What a nice man, just a nice, normal dude, that’s the first impression I got from him before he went on the air.
I was really impressed with how comfortable he seemed right away and how comfortable that crew seemed.
Kevin Burkhardt’s so good at whoever you put in there making them feel right at home.
Q: Should the Angels trade Shohei Ohtani?
Smoltz: If you’re gonna single-handedly change your franchise, last year was the time to do it if you didn’t think there was any chance you could re-sign the player.
If there’s a chance they can’t, boy they could really dynamically change their organization in the future if he’s traded to the right team that has the opportunity to resign him as well. … With Mike Trout out, I think it changes the narrative.
If I was the GM, I would be asking for a lot.
That doesn’t mean you’re gonna get it, but you never know. You might.
Davis: Yes. I can’t even fathom what it would get in return. He’s not gonna re-sign there, I think we’re all pretty confident about that, so you might as well get something for him, especially given the injuries they’re dealing with as a team, it’s not looking like they’re gonna be a playoff team.
Q: John, describe your first All-Star game as a player in 1989.
Smoltz: I was the only representative of the Braves that year. Felt like a fish out of water all by myself. [Jay] Leno was the up-and-coming comedian. I was just wide-eyed and trying to take it all in.
Q: You came in for the starter, Rick Reuschel?
Smoltz: I was in the dugout when Tommy Lasorda called the bullpen to get me going ’cause [Reuschel] was struggling.
I only threw seven warm-up pitches. I couldn’t even breathe right.
All I remember is Bo Jackson comes up to the plate with first and third one out, and I’m trying to figure out how I can get this guy to ground into a double play, and I threw what I thought was the perfect pitch, two-hopper to Ozzie Smith to [Ryne] Sandberg to throw to first and he beat it out.
I’ve never seen anybody run that fast. I got the loss.
The oldest guy to ever get the win at the time was Nolan Ryan and the youngest guy to ever get the loss was me.
Q: Your All-Star Game start?
Smoltz: The start in ’96 was a lot of fun, just knowing that I got chosen first, I was having a monster year. I wanted to continue it, and was lucky enough to do that and get the win, … In all my [eight] All-Star Games, I only gave up two runs, but I got two losses.
Q: What made Smoltz an eight-time All-Star pitcher?
Davis: As I hear him talk pitching now, and have more of an appreciation for the way he went about his business than I could have as a kid just watching him on TV.
I think it’s the fearlessness. I think it’s the attitude, and this comes out currently in golf or when he’s on the treadmill in the gym or whatever it is … just the idea that he’s not gonna let anybody beat him.
That he’s gonna find a way to be the best.
Q: What do you guys think of the pitch clock?
Smoltz: I’ve been pushing for it for a long time. This will be a non-issue after this year. If you’re in cardio shape, and you know how to throw a baseball, 15 seconds or 20 seconds is not a big deal.
Davis: I’ve loved it. More than the game speed’s shorter is that the dead time is cut out of the game.
If I’m watching 3 ¹/₂-hour games in this day and age as a young kid, I’m probably not that into it.
Q: Home Run Derby pick?
Smoltz: It’s hard for me to go against a guy like [Pete] Alonso just ’cause he’s so unique.
You don’t see guys go to the All-Star Home Run Derby and have such passion and want to win it and put as much time into something like that. He’s amazing.
But I think the hometown kid [Julio Rodriguez is] also gonna have a lot of energy in Seattle, and they’re gonna be trying to ride that emotion.
Davis: I’m gonna say Julio Rodriguez does it in front of the home crowd.
Q: MVP pick?
Davis: Let’s go Acuña.
Smoltz: I’m gonna cherry pick the roll that Ronald Acuña’s on.
Q: What do you hope viewers say about the broadcasters when they turn the game off?
Smoltz: That we didn’t get in the way.
That they didn’t notice us (laugh). You know what I’ve learned about this business is that you are never gonna make everybody happy.
Davis: I hope that they say, “Man, those guys are having fun.” I hope they say, “That was a cool story, those are some cool stories.”
And especially in the All-Star Game, I hope they say: “That access was incredible. They took us somewhere where we don’t usually get to go in baseball broadcasts.”