Directed by Jeff Malmberg and Morgan Neville, and narrated by Jeff Daniels, The Saint Of Second Chances tells the story of Mike Veeck, the son of Hall Of Fame baseball owner Bill Veeck, and how he parlayed his second chance in baseball into a minor league empire that influenced how games at that level are presented.
The film starts Mike Veeck’s story in 1975, when his father told him that he was looking to reacquire the Chicago White Sox, for which he was the principal owner from 1959-61, and wanted to bring him on board. Mike, who didn’t have a super-close relationship with his dad, took the opportunity to work with him, and worked hard to not be just known as the owner’s kid. That included helping his dad with promotions and stunts, something Bill Veeck (“Veeck as in wreck,” he’d say about the pronunciation of his name) was famous for in his previous spots in St. Louis and Cleveland.
The Chisox were “underfunded”, as Mike said, so any promotion that would bring people to Comiskey Park was considered. One of Mike’s biggest ideas was 1979’s Disco Demolition Night, where local shock jock Steve Dahl would blow up disco records collected from the crowd, who brought them in for deeply discounted tickets for a doubleheader. You know what happened next: The records were blown up, about a quarter of the sellout crowd stormed the out of the stands, and the Sox had to forfeit the second game of the doubleheader due to the crowd wrecking the field.
Bill Veeck sold the team in 1981, and Mike was out of baseball for about a decade, when he started a family — he named his son Night Train — got a divorce, tried all sorts of careers, and developed a drinking and drug problem. But when an investor called in the early ’90s, looking to start an independent minor league, Mike was back, this time as the principal owner of the St. Paul Saints.
He pulled out all of the tricks his father taught him to make the environment in St. Paul fun for fans and players alike. A pig brought out the baseballs to the umpires. There were outlandish promotions, including one where the crowd was purposely locked out. Bill Murray was brought in as an owner and he often appeared at games. Ila Borders pitched for the team, becoming the first woman to pitch in a men’s professional baseball game. The team did well from its 1992 debut, setting a standard that has permeated through affiliated and independent minor league baseball.
The Saint Of Second Chances is a fun film about a fun figure in the history of baseball, and how Mike Veeck’s own second chances paralleled the ones he gave others on the teams he owned. The documentary is now available to stream on Netflix.