SARATOGA SPRINGS – If I didn’t see it with my own eyes, I wouldn’t have believed it:
“Art, how you doin’? How about those Mets? I don’t know, that Davey Johnson – he seems to run hot and cold with me… hold on.”
“Hey Sam! So we are talking stocks. I tell you, no one picks ‘em like my uncle – man is he a wiz! Be right back…”
“Vito! Welcome back buddy! I think last time we were into this discussion about the Civil War, right?”
And on and on.
The scene would take place at Joe Collins restaurant (now Bravo) when it was one of THE places to go. Night after night, he would hold court at that big square bar, with sometimes up to two-dozen people. Later, it would happen at the defunct Broadway Joe’s with a similar amount of patrons.
One bartender would hold court, uncannily remembering everyone’s drink, whether it was two hours, two days or two years since you last walked in.
Even more amazingly, the man behind the bar would have the ability to hold two-dozen separate conversations, on maybe 24 different topics – enough of a renaissance man to speak knowledgably on each. But wait there’s more:
“Yeah, Art. Now with Gooden and Darling, Frankie V and Jesse, you would think he’d have to try to mess it up… I don’t know…”
Yes he did. And he still does.
But the amazing thing about Joe Raucci is that he can hold two-dozen or so conversations, PAUSE them to serve 4-5 customers, and come back to you – picking up at the exact spot you and he left off… visit awhile, then off to the next guy…
“Yeah, Sam, my Uncle can sure pick those stocks just when they’re about to make their move, understand? He just had this uncanny ability. I tried to get him to go to the track, but he was having none of it…”
But wait, there’s still more.
Meet Joe Raucci, Saratoga Springs through and through. The Collector. Of memorabilia – different artifacts of this and that. Sports in general. But it is horse racing, particularly Saratoga horse racing, and Saratoga Springs in macro, that Joe focuses his concentration toward.
And we have already established that the man can concentrate.
During a too-brief visit recently, he had stuff strewn out on his kitchen table that made it resemble the set of Hoarders. But the thing was – it was all cool, and very valuable. So extensive is his collection that we had to segment it into digestible, yet delicious parts. There are things we are saving for future segments that I promise will blow your mind. Think hardware that horse owners raise in triumph. That sort of thing. But we’ll get to that. Today, we explore his complete collection of Lake House gambling chips and postcards. “Aaaah, the Lake Houses. The romance of gangsterism,” Joe said with his omnipresent good-natured smile. “For a lot of people, the real action began after racing was done for the day… certainly, in that era, the two went hand-in-hand. Lansky and his crew. You know, Saratoga is the only place Meyer Lansky ever spent a night in jail…” Enjoy Mark’s photographs of items that are long gone but still cherished. I assure you, this is just an aperitif. Like Joe himself, the best is yet to come. “I’m a historian at heart. I think I acquire these things because when I look at them, the history comes alive,” Joe says.
He knocks on the table for emphasis. “So, what about those Mets?” Joe said. “Man, are they loaded! It’s like 1969 with the rotation they’ve got… But I don’t know…”
Next Week: Programs – programs galore!
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