It wouldn’t be wrong of me to say Netflix’s greatest strength is the way they tell real-life stories. Their latest documentary, The Saint of Second Chances, is not only another glorious testament to that; it is probably one of the best documentaries to come out of Netflix yet. The selling point about the documentary is its accessibility. Whether you are a fan of baseball or not, you are bound to enjoy this Jeff Malmberg and Morgan Neville-directed documentary. It is extremely entertaining, very engaging, and brilliantly made from the start to the finish.
Every baseball aficionado probably knows about the infamous “Disco Demolition”, which happened way back on July 12, 1979. It was the brainchild of Mike Veeck, who was in charge of the PR and promotional activities of the Chicago White Sox. The idea seemed like a brilliant one in terms of bringing in the bucks from a full-house stadium, but in reality, it went horribly wrong. During the break between the double-header games between the home team and the Detroit Tigers, a fateful explosion happened, which ruined the playing field to the extent that the game afterwards had to be canceled. The effect was massive, as this effectively led to Bill Veeck, the White Sox owner and Mike’s father, selling the team. Mike lost his reputation thanks to the mess he made and retreated to minor league baseball.
The choice of making a documentary about Mike Veeck instead of his legendary father, Bill, is both audacious and smart at the same time. For the uninitiated, Bill Veeck was a rag-tag businessman and is widely considered the last of the patrons who genuinely cared about the game as well as the fans being entertained. Unfortunately, Bill and his White Sox were regularly in financial trouble, and that was the reason Mike opted for the “Disco Demolition” event, which, if done right, could have turned things around. Mike lived the formative years of his life in his famous father’s shadow. This is a very common issue for many, where one of the parents is famous enough for their children to be forever burdened with carrying on the legacy. This often leads the child to drift away from the mega-successful parent, which happened in Mike’s case here. Mike tried everything to get away from Bill’s shadow and do something on his own. But it was his destiny to work for his father after all and subsequently mess it all up. However, The Saint of Second Chances is not about Mike’s fall; it is rather about his rise after, as the name suggests. And that’s what makes this story very cinematic.
At its core, the documentary is really about the parent-child relationship. First, the one between Bill and Mike; and then the one between Mike and his kids, son Night Train and daughter Rebecca. One of the bravest things this documentary has probably done is shed light on the story of Rebecca Veeck, Mike’s daughter, who lost a lifelong battle against the incurable neurological disease called “Batten” and eventually died at the age of only 27. It was really hard to see Mike talking about it, and it would probably move everyone to tears. This essentially made the audience feel closer to the story and invest more emotion in it. This is a staggering feat to achieve for a documentary, as, in the case of real stories, one can always go to the internet and find out what happened instead of watching events unfold.
Despite the stadium fiasco and personal tragedy, The Saint of Second Chances happens to be a story about Mike Veeck finding the light again. It is an inspiring story about the redemption of a failing man who, after struggling for more than a decade, finally managed to turn things around in 1993 with the reinvention of the Saint Paul Saints, which saw unprecedented success in the following years. Mike remained as the owner until the year 2023, and just like his father Bill, he also orchestrated many outlandish promotional campaigns for the Saints, and most of them actually worked out in Veeck’s favor.
The success of a good documentary depends on a lot of factors other than the story it is telling. The technical craft and approach to handling the narrative are very essential here. Malmberg and Neville hit the bullseye in these departments. Hiring someone like Jeff Daniels to narrate this story was a great move, as listening to Daniels’ enchanting voice definitely enhances the overall viewing experience. Another masterstroke was using real archival footage and pairing it up with the dramatization of events where Mike Veeck is played by actor Charlie Day of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia fame. Day plays the part of the failing Mike from his early days, and thanks to his experience playing the broken, down-on-luck man Charlie in It’s Always Sunny, he aces the role. Both Day and the dramatization are so brilliant that at times it becomes hard to distinguish between the reel and the real, which I would consider a great success.
One might be apprehensive about being unfamiliar with the sport baseball and the rules of it before hitting the play button on The Saint of Second Chances. That is completely understandable, but I guarantee you that this is not a sports documentary. Yes, sport is an integral part of this, but you don’t have to be well-versed to enjoy it, as I can tell from my own experience. At the end of the day, this is a very cinematic, riveting story of turning the wheel of fortune, which is certain to inspire you and fill you with a lot of warmth and wholesomeness. It is also a story about everyone who has ever been crazy about a sports team and the frenzy around it. And last but not least, it is the story of a “failure” of a son who eventually becomes a “successful” father to his own kids. How often do you get to see all of these happenings in one documentary?