There is always love in baseball.
Love of the game. Love between father and son in appreciating a great game together and in “The Saint of Second Chances,” there is wonderful love between father, sons and daughter with baseball as the backdrop.
This documentary, which is airing at the Tribeca Festival until June 18 and will premiere on Netflix this fall, is about a life of hard times, fun times and abject sorrow concerning one Mike Veeck.
The name should ring a bell. His father was the maverick, peg-legged baseball owner of the Cleveland Indians (integrating the American League with future Hall of Famer Larry Doby and winning the World Series in 1948), St. Louis Browns, and lastly the Chicago White Sox. You know … Bill Veeck … as in wreck.
His final endeavor with the Pale Hose literally went up in smoke as young Veeck reminisces about Disco Demolition Night on July 12, 1979 (aka Disco Sucks) and how the insanity at old Comiskey Park that ended his father’s ownership dream starting with some adventurous women.
The plan was for anyone who entered the ballpark with a disco record (not CD) to get into the stadium for ninety-nine cents. Said albums would be blown up.
What could possibly go wrong?
“I was standing at second base, and I was guilty of hubris, patting myself on the back and going, ‘Man Oh Man, 60 thousand in the inside and 40 thousand on the outside,’” says Veeck. He was director of promotions and he realized something was off, especially “the moment four women slid down the foul pole.
“Then I said to myself, there’s going to be a lot of people on this field in very short order. I realized I wasn’t going to be a genius.”
The second game of the Twi-night doubleheader was canceled after fans stormed the field and the Chicago riot police were called in. The owners and baseball bid adieu to Bill Veeck and yet, the father did not blame the son.
“The first thing he said to me at three in the morning was, ‘Sometimes they work too well,’” he remembers. “That was his way to tell me that he understood that I loused this one up, but I had failed in an honorable fashion trying to just draw people in to see a ballclub which was pretty bad actually.”
Do you remember the short pants the players wore? Yep, Veeck.
If you are a sourpuss by nature, then this documentary isn’t for you because there are lots of laughs with the Veeck family.
“I do enjoy life,” Veeck admits with one of his patented great laughs. “I guess it was a combination of both of my parents. We were a happy, loud, joyous family of eleven; nine kids. That laughter was the passport to being in the inner sanctum. You had to have a laugh.”
He spent his life looking for purpose when his dad asked him to join him at the White Sox. He was known as the owner’s kid. Great, nepotism!
But he decided to outwork everyone with ideas or cleaning the bathrooms.
Then Disco Demolition Night hit and all his dreams went away.
Putting the documentary together was co-directors Morgan Neville (Academy Award winner for the doc “20 Feet from Stardom” and Jeff Malmberg (”Marwencol”). It is narrated by Jeff Daniels.
“I heard Mike Veeck on the radio fifteen years ago and he was so entertaining that I sent him an email,” says Neville who also directed “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” “We had a loose friendship and said it would be great to do [something] someday and that someday just ended up taking fifteen years.”
“At the heart, it is just such a family story,” says Malmberg. “Baseball is so often about that, father and sons, father and daughters. It was interesting to see how Mike navigated that through the shadow of his father, passing his knowledge on to his kids.”
Veeck developed his relationship with his son Night Train (yes, Night Train) from his first marriage as time went by, but his daughter Rebecca, from his second marriage, was the apple of his eye, and he could see her as a future maverick baseball owner. A fourth-generation Veeck.
Veeck’s grandfather, William Veeck, Sr., was president of the Chicago Cubs from 1919 until his death in 1933.
With all their gimmicks like the exploding scoreboard, you could say the Veecks were hustlers, but in a good way.
“My father used to say, a hustler is not a con man,” he declares. “A hustler believes.”
After running the St. Paul Saints, an independent club, and about half a dozen other clubs, he got a call to work for the Tampa Bay Devil Rays.
He was back in The Show.
Until Rebecca got sick. First, she started going blind, but he figured she’d bounce back and become baseball’s first blind, female owner. Even with her eyesight deteriorating, Veeck took his daughter all over the world until she said she had to go back to school.
Then she got sicker, could hardly move and passed away from Batten disease at age 27 in 2019.
Veeck grieved and at 72 still enjoys life.
“I want to die with the dignity that she did,” says Veeck. “She taught us more about living by accepting the ultimate with such grace. So, if we were going to build a monument to her, it will best be a ball club.”
The doc makes you laugh and shed a tear at the same time either from the family humor or sadness, but Veeck lets everyone in to see. The doc was a positive journey for him.
“It was therapy for me,” he says. “Morgan and Jeff love baseball which made it easy for life and art to imitate one another. The rigor with which they prepared and the veracity which they built into their questions, forced me to face stuff I didn’t want to.”
The film is not just about looking at him — Hey, I’m a Veeck — it’s about family.
“I want [the fans] to realize how heroic my children are, my son and daughter,” he points out, adding the Veeck name may not be as potent as it once was, but it has its moments. “Bill Veeck is a great name to have if you’re in a tavern.”
And here comes that hardy laugh of his.
“He was in a place where he really wanted to talk,” reveals Malberg. “He’s such a good storyteller. He takes that laugh and uses it against some really tough things. He just keeps going and he keeps believing that he’s going to get it right. That’s really admirable.”
“It’s like you saddle up to a guy in a bar and he starts telling you incredible stories,” says Neville. “The movie is called ‘The Saint of Second Chances’ because it’s about redemption and grace. Being able to see people as gray and flawed and human and embrace them, trying to do better.
“[It] is something that Mike learned the hard way. It’s something we don’t celebrate enough.”
So, what’s next?
“I want to find a broken down independent ball club that needs some help where I can work for my son Night Train whom I think is going to surpass all the other generations,” says Veeck. “He’s just smarter and more articulate.
“Frankly, he’s more fun. I want to do this one more time with him. I wouldn’t do it any other way. Nobody will love the game the way we do from generation to generation just for the sheer ballet of it.”
Sounds like another Veeck hustle — Tutu Night at the Ballpark!
And what could possibly go wrong?
Source: Berkshire mont