‘The Saint of Second Chances’ Review: A Sports Doc That Takes Pride in the Comeback

Tribeca 2023: This sports doc takes pride in the comeback — and doesn’t alienate non-sports heads either

The Saint of Second Chances
"The Saint of Second Chances" (Photo courtesy of Tribeca Festival)

Life is, thankfully for us, full of second chances. Humans are forever figuring out how to get it right, but there’s no denying that the universe finds a way to be on our side when our hearts are in the right place. There lies the emotional core of Jeff Malmberg and Morgan Neville’s new Netflix documentary “The Saint of Second Chances.”

The film is a mirror for those of us who have ever had to pick up the pieces after massive failure, and with life being the way it is, it isn’t going to be very hard for this film to find people who develop a cathartic connection to it. “The Saint of Second Chances” is a once-in-a-lifetime documentary for sports that meshes the ordinary with the extraordinary in a way that only the messy hands of time can. And the best part about it? You don’t have to be a diehard sports lover to get invested in this story, because it’s so full of heart and truth that it’s infectious. 

“The Saint of Second Chances” chronicles the life of Mike Veeck, son of Hall of Fame baseball owner Bill Veeck. The baseball icon’s son followed in his father’s footsteps for many years by marching to the beat of his own drum and integrating all of the game-day fun we now know and love about going to the ballpark into the regular routine of the baseball season, like giveaways and theme nights. But in a crazy turn of events, Mike ends up totally imploding his father’s career and is made to start at square one to work his way back up the ladder. Through this redemption arc, he learns the value, meaning and glory of second chances. 

In recent years, a lot of prestige docs, including several from Netflix, have gone the big budget route and done something really flashy to garner interest, like casting a well-known actor to do reenactments in the picture. “The Saint of Second Chances” is guilty of this too, with comic Charlie Day taking on the role of Mike Veeck in a whole host of flashbacks that are sprinkled throughout the film. Day is just as charismatic as the real Mike Veeck, and actually does look like him a bit with the wig and fake mustache, so it’s pretty much the perfect alchemical match to create effective, engaging reenactments that both paints the pictures and leans into the feel-good laughter needed to entice non-sports viewers. 

Plus, the legendary Jeff Daniels narrates the film, which gives the whole thing a very lived-in and homey feel that likens you to the subject matter almost instantly. It definitely isn’t unique in that this isn’t the first documentary Daniels has narrated, but there’s something about this particular one that feels much more inspired than all the rest. Daniels’ narration feels like being cradled by a loved one and being told a story, and, like Day’s involvement, it’s a major asset in making this documentary stand out.

But when it comes to the real-life portions of this picture, it is so damn easy to get invested in that element because everyone interviewed from the world of the White Sox is utterly delightful. The charm absolutely oozes out of every talking head and interview segment throughout the film, and because one becomes so connected to them through the delight their interviews bring, the emotional moments in the film’s last act become that much more weighty and cathartic despite their specificity within the baseball world. 

The connection the audience builds with Bill and Mike Veeck’s story is a testament to the humanity threaded within it. That humanity is what sets this documentary apart from others in the sports genre, and allows folks who otherwise may have no connection or interest in baseball to find an entry point. It was easy to do because of how authentic and true the subjects felt, and how easy it was to picture knowing the central people within the story.

This wide-open entry point is also a beautiful testament to the directorial efforts of Malmberg and Neville, who are responsible for perfectly molding the overall tone and pacing of the film, especially considering Malmberg is also co-credited for editing on the project. The pair weave together a story that hits all the right emotional beats where and when necessary, and that engages as much as it informs and enlightens. 

Overall, “The Saint of Second Chances” is a heartfelt and unexpected journey through the comeback of a man with a good head on his shoulders and a good heart in his chest. It’s impossible not to completely fall in love with Mike Veeck throughout the course of the film, so much so that you’re rooting for him even in the moments where it isn’t easy to. He’s everything people love about underdogs, and, as highlighted in this delightful doc, his entrepreneurial spirit for doing things his way is the backbone of his legacy. This is one documentary you need to make time for, and when you do, it’s nearly guaranteed you’ll laugh, cry, and even yearn for a childhood day at the ballpark. It’s that good, but more importantly, it’s that genuine.