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The Saint of Second Chances

The best parts of Morgan Neville & Jeff Malmberg’s “The Saint of Second Chances” are like hearing stories from a good friend over beers after a game. He may have fled the city after the traumatic misfire of Disco Demolition, but Mike Veeck feels to me like a true Chicagoan, someone who values friendship, family, and a good time. He proves to be a phenomenal interview subject in this Netflix documentary that can be slight at times but culminates in a series of scenes that remind one what’s really important in this world. What seems like a playful story about a vibrant MLB personality shifts to become a story of priorities and a man who learned that second chances are only worthwhile if you take the right ones.

Bill Veeck owned several teams before the Chicago White Sox, but “The Saint of Second Chances” is about his son’s involvement with the beloved sports magnate, so it opens with his formative time in the Windy City. In a definitive soundbite, Veeck describes America’s pastime as “The most delightful way to spend an afternoon or evening.” He was determined to entertain people as much as present a venue for a sports competition, introducing an exploding scoreboard that set off fireworks with home runs—a variation on it remains in play during White Sox games to this day. Veeck and his son Mike turned White Sox games in the 1970s into events. They put a working barber in the outfield and started Harry Caray singing “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” (a bit that Caray would take to Wrigley Field, where it’s still done to this day.)

It all reached a head in an event in 1979 in which a local shock jock named Steve Dahl hosted Disco Demolition, an invitation for people to destroy disco records between doubleheader games. It basically led to a riot and later accusations that the entire event was racist and homophobic. The film presents it as a major flub on Mike’s part, one that broke his dad’s heart. It sent Mike out of the industry for a bit, but he would return to minor league affiliates, bringing his dad’s playful spirit to events and showing his massive heart at the same time. The Veecks were less concerned about profit than entertainment. Sure, they could go together, but the film really captures how that “delightful way to spend an afternoon or evening” was key to the choices they made.

It also presents Mike Veeck, who is played in recreations here by Charlie Day—the film is also narrated by beloved Midwesterner Jeff Daniels, by the way—as a likable, empathetic guy. Neville & Malmberg know how to get a person's core—Neville directed the Mr. Rogers bio-doc “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?,” which Malmberg edited—and they really focus on Veeck’s likability. He’s often smiling or laughing, even when unpacking a dark chapter that would devastate most people: the degenerative condition that first made his daughter go blind and then took her at far too young an age. Even through such pain, Veeck talks about their shared experiences and the love that kept them from falling apart. He’s the kind of guy you want to thank for the stories and buy a beer. He’s the kind of guy his dad would have taken to a baseball game. 

On Netflix now.

Brian Tallerico

Brian Tallerico is the Managing Editor of RogerEbert.com, and also covers television, film, Blu-ray, and video games. He is also a writer for Vulture, The Playlist, The New York Times, and GQ, and the President of the Chicago Film Critics Association.

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Film Credits

The Saint of Second Chances movie poster

The Saint of Second Chances (2023)

93 minutes

Cast

Bill Veeck as Self (archive footage)

Jeff Daniels as Narrator (voice)

Charlie Day as Mike Veeck (voice)

Director

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