Bill Veeck, a scrappy, showmanship-savvy Major League Baseball impresario who survived grave injuries as a Marine during World War II, would make a hard act for any child to follow. But you can’t say that one of his sons hasn’t tried. That would be Mike Veeck, the subject of the peppy new documentary “The Saint of Second Chances.”
Now in his seventies, Mike is an engaging onscreen presence in this story, whether appearing as himself or as played in re-enactments by Charlie Day (“It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia”). The movie was directed by Morgan Neville (“20 Feet From Stardom”) and Jeff Malmberg (“Marwencol”), and is a tad more fanciful than their prior work.
But fancy is a good fit for the Veecks, it turns out. We see that Bill believed that “the most delightful way to spend an afternoon or evening” was at the ballpark. In the 1970s, reigning over Chicago’s Comiskey Park with the town’s second-banana MLB team, the White Sox, he was a ramshackle marketing innovator. Mike tried to match him: A disastrous 1979 gathering at Comiskey called Disco Demolition Night, where a record-burning stunt turned into a riot that resulted in dozens of arrests, was Mike’s idea. The fiasco got deserved blowback, which sent the younger Veeck into a long tailspin.
This movie’s feel-good narrative essentially hinges on whether you buy Mike’s assertion that he wouldn’t have done the event if he “thought it would hurt anyone.” Once Mike got back in the game years later — through the Independent League ball organization — he brought the fun in eccentric ways, including a ball-carrying pig. Darryl Strawberry testifies here that Mike helped him love the game again. And the story of a personal tragedy in Mike’s family life is affecting.
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