Morgan Neville and Jeff Malmberg team up to bring audiences the Veeck baseball family story in The Saint of Second Chances.
I love a good baseball movie. Let me tell you, this is a good baseball movie. You’ll have all the feelings while watching it. I suppose that’s to be expected when the Won’t You Be My Neighbor? filmmaker decides to co-direct a baseball documentary with Malmberg. But anyway, I love what the two of them have done with this film.
Baseball owner Bill Veeck–the son of former Chicago Cubs president William Veeck Sr.–was posthumously inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1991. He was among the last of an old breed in baseball, selling his stake in the Chicago White Sox in 1980. Veeck owned baseball teams during a very different era in the game. It’s hard to imagine him owning a franchise today–too much has changed because on has to be really rich today. Meanwhile, his son, Mike Veeck, will probably never get inducted into the HOF even though he came up with some brilliant (and not-so-brilliant ideas) while working for his father. That’s what makes this film so inspirational and beautiful. Just when we think that Mike’s career is over, he gets a second chance working with the St. Paul Saints. Mike’s son, Night Train Veeck, is the fourth generation of the family to work in baseball.
Here is what we have because of the Veeck family’s contributions to the game:
- The Wrigley Field Ivy
- Signing Larry Doby and Satchel Paige
- Eddie Gaedel
- Baltimore Orioles
- Exploding scoreboard
- Harry Caray singing “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” during the 7th inning stretch
- Theme Nights
Before Branch Rickey ever signed Jackie Robinson, Veeck wanted to buy the Philadelphia Phillies and replace the team with Negro League players. The Phillies acquisition didn’t happen but Veeck would break the American League color barrier by signing Larry Doby in 1947. There’s a moment in the film when Doby shows the photo to Mike’s daughter, Rebecca.
After the failure that was Disco Demolition Night, Mike was no longer welcome in the baseball. Exiled, he reached rock bottom before meeting Libby Veeck and getting his life back together. He found his way back to baseball by way of the St. Paul Saints. It was going well for a while but then their daughter, Rebecca, started losing her eyesight. This led to a cross-country road trip with all sorts of sights including the aforementioned Cooperstown visit. Anyway, it’s during Mike’s time with the Saints that he learns that Darryl Strawberry wants to play for them. Strawberry had a lot of alcohol issues at this point in his career so Mike wasn’t entirely on board. He needed a pep talk of sorts from Libby to give Strawberry a second chance. The second chance led to a stint with the New York Yankees.
Unfortunately, the film’s third act does reach a certain level of heartbreak when the film turns its focus to Rebecca Veeck. When the interview subjects start talking about her in past tense, you get the sense that something is wrong. I won’t get into the specifics but I do wish I had a Kleenex while watching.
Neville–an Oscar-winning filmmaker–and Malmberg take a fascinating approach in telling the Veeck story. Rather than rely exclusively on talking heads and archival clips, they decide to recreate scenes with Charlie Day portraying a younger Mike Veeck. It really works for the film, even the talking pig. I can’t imagine that being easy for the VFX and sound teams to both pull off together. All in all, the film is more entertaining than one would think. To say that Neville and Malmberg hit it out of the park is not an understatement. Regardless, it’s very different from other baseball documentaries. There’s this feeling of uniqueness to telling the Veeck story because its’s the Veecks. Mike Veeck brought fun to baseball so why not bring fun to baseball documentaries, too.
The Saint of Second Chances is an unlikely inspirational and entertaining redemption story that joins the roster of baseball movies.
DIRECTORS: Morgan Neville & Jeff Malmberg
NARRATOR: Jeff Daniels
FEATURING: Mike Veeck, Libby Veeck, Night Train Veeck, Lee Adams, Dax Allen, Lark Allen, Dan Barreiro, Ila Borders, Bob Chicoine, John-Keith Culbreth, Dave Dombrowski, Nancy Faust, Sister Rosalind Gefre, Keith Harmon, Dave Hoekstra, Annie Huidekoper, Lamar Johnson, Neal Karlen, Tony La Russa, Dave Stevens, Darryl Strawberry, Don Wardlow
CAST: Charlie Day
The Saint of Second Chances holds its world premiere during the 2023 Tribeca Festival in the Spotlight Documentary section. Netflix will release the film at a later date. Grade: 4.5/5
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