The Saint of Second Chances (2023) Movie Review


A 9th Inning Underdog Story

Directors Morgan Neville and Jeff Malmberg give us what looks like a run-of-the mill sports documentary that turns into a beautiful story of a man who, when given a second chance, makes the right choices in life.

The Saint of Second Chances follows baseball promoter and owner Mike Veeck from his early days working under his father, the owner of the Chicago White Sox, Bill Veeck. It was a time that nearly ended his career in baseball before it really even got a chance to take off. The film grips you on an emotional level with the story of his second act, where he becomes a family man and the owner of the underdog minor league team, the St. Paul Saints.

Mike Veeck could easily be perceived as the wild child of his MLB owner dad. He got handed a job when his father Bill took over the Chicago White Sox, the b-team in Chicago, to the Cubs. But Mike had the same hustle and work ethic that his father had. He did everything from cleaning toilets to crafting the firework shows when a player got a home-run.

Veeck became kind of an innovator in the baseball culture that we know today. Nobody was doing these outlandish things at ball parks. He was the first to create private suite seating which was something unheard of at the time. And it was all because he had a massive passion for the game of baseball.

Unfortunately, having a lot of passion for something can burn your dreams down. That’s what happened to Mike. His promotional ideas got the best of him, and in 1979, he was the man behind the infamous Disco Sucks rally at the Chicago White Sox game. Prior to Chicago’s night game, Mike organized the burning of thousands of disco records on the field. Which then led to thousands of people who most likely weren’t even baseball fans rushing the field. Riot police showed up and assisted in ending the event.

Mike still had admiration from his dad for the idea while his father took the fall for him, but Mike would get blacklisted from the league.

The second half of the film is where the real sentimental underdog story comes into play. Mike spends the next decade on his butt in south Florida. He gets married, has a son, and then gets divorced. And as he’s living in an apartment, he encounters the woman who would end up becoming his second wife. He then gets a call about the launch of an independent ball club being formed in St. Paul, Minnesota.

The rest of the film becomes very much about Mike’s commitment to what ends up being his redemptive story about someone who almost ruined his career but ended up creating a culture in the minor leagues that would have a stamp on the majors. Redemption is a two way street, as the film likes to say, and it also states that you never know when second chances are going to come.

Mike’s story is a tell-all tale about it. He gets his second chance and he also gives second chances. It was Mike who signed Daryl Strawberry to his team after Strawberry’s run-in with drugs and the law while he was in the pros. Mike helped the player get reenergized with his love for the game, and after a season in St. Paul, he returned to the pros to win a title with the Yankees.

Despite his flaws being on full display in the film, Mike’s strengths outweigh them. There’s a brief moment after the Disco Sucks bit where he acknowledges now that some look back on it as a racist and homophobic stunt to try and destroy a subculture of America. He doesn’t dismiss these opinions of him, but he fairly mentions that none of it was his intention, but rather just another day at the office spit balling ideas. It just so happens that one went over the top.

The real heart of the story comes from the midst of Vecck’s surging career in St. Paul and his relationship to his son and daughter. As one of the film’s taglines goes, Mike always wanted to be a good son, but he ended up being a great father. His relationship with his daughter during the times of her ailing eye sight and neurological disorder is touching. He took her around the world to see things before the lights went out as he states.

Neville and Malmbert’s direction in the film works amazingly, as we see the true colors of Mike Vecck. In a sea of documentaries that are gripping and even dark. This one gives you a positive outlook on life and second chances. It also must be mentioned that Charlie Day plays the role of a young Vecck in some of the dramatized flashbacks. The film is narrated by mid-westerner Jeff Daniels. His voice captures the film and all its empathy. It adds a touch of Americana to it.

There is a line in another baseball film called Moneyball. It’s more of a rhetorical question: “How can you not be romantic about baseball?” It’s a phrase that holds true here. This documentary isn’t about sports; it’s about priorities and faith that you can rise up from the ashes and take whatever life throws at you. Onto of all that, it does romanticize the sport, but in the sense of what love for the game does to the soul. It may be too dramatic to say this, but here it goes: The Saint of Second Chances wants to be a bit of a religious experience with its story of redemption hiding in the plot. And self-understanding that once you think you’re down, you can get back up.

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