Casey Stengel and Worcester’s Baseball Hall of Fame connections

The most enduring name connecting Worcester to the National Baseball Hall of Fame is turn-of-the-century star Jesse Burkett, a two-time .400 hitter with a .338 career batting average whose namesake Little League on the city’s West Side became a part of hardball history itself by advancing to the 2002 Little League World Series.

Burkett, who married the former Ellen G. McGrath after his first season in Worcester and settled in the city until his death in 1953 — less than two weeks before the devastating Worcester Tornado killed 94 and injured more than 1,000 — is not alone on the Worcester-to-Cooperstown ledger.

Wikimedia Commons / The Sporting News / Charles M. Conlon

Jesse Burkett was a coach for the New York Giants in the early 1920s.

Indeed, there are three other enshrined stars whose careers brought them to Worcester — more on two of them and other luminaries later — but the most endearing and unforgettable character to share the lineage is the indefatigable and incomparable Casey Stengel, manager of the Mickey Mantle-era New York Yankees.

If you didn’t remember — or ever know — that the irrepressible Stengel’s famed managerial career got its start in Worcester, and included a complicated transaction that would live in baseball lore, you can surely be forgiven.

As the Hall of Fame inducts its newest class today, it seems a fitting time to take a dusty and mostly monochromatic trip down memory lane through the early days of Burkett, Stengel and baseball in Worcester.

On Beacon Hill: Someone has to be the thimble

Recap and analysis of the week in local, state and federal government
from State House News Service and Sun research.

BOSTON — Do not pass go, but do collect $200 million.

That was the message from Democrats on Beacon Hill to Gov. Charlie Baker last week, marking what amounts to the most significant, if not the first, major policy dust-up between the Kumbaya Caucus of Three at the State House.

House Speaker Robert DeLeo, D-Winthrop, and Senate President Stanley Rosenberg, D-Amherst, threw a brushback pitch when — in a mere matter of days after Baker signed the fiscal 2018 budget — they went along with Baker’s request for a swift public hearing on his proposed MassHealth eligibility reforms.

Sam Doran (SHNS / file photo)

Senate President Stanley C. Rosenberg and House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo

But the court officers barely had time to lock the doors and shut the lights out in Gardner Auditorium when word trickled out that the Legislature would vote the next day to rebuff the governor and his call for Medicaid reforms to be packaged with new fees and fines on employers to pay for health insurance for the low-income and disabled.

The Democratic leadership decided reform can wait, but the revenues cannot. And so both branches voted overwhelmingly, and for the second time, to send Baker new employer assessments, deemed taxes by many critics, to pay for MassHealth without the administration and business community’s desired cost-saving measures.

“I’ll take a look at it when it gets to my desk and then we’ll make a decision and I’ll be sure to let you know when we make that decision,” Baker said Thursday after the dust had settled, knowing he has three choices.

Baker can sign the assessments and risk alienating the business community; veto the bill and force lawmakers to override, for which they have the votes; or let the assessments become law in protest without his signature after 10 days.

Option two would force DeLeo and Rosenberg to decided whether they must call members back from the August recess, which began Friday, to override or wait until after Labor Day in contradiction of their assertions last week that the assessments need to be implemented immediately if the state is to collect the money it is counting on for the fiscal 2018 budget.

The polite game of chicken unfolded as U.S. Senate Republicans tried — and ultimately failed — to muster 50 votes to repeal and replace, repeal, or “skinny repeal” Obamacare. After overcoming the odds to proceed to a debate on health care, it seemed all week that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell didn’t care what bill he could pass, as long as he could pass something.

In the end, he couldn’t. Sen. John McCain, recently diagnosed with brain cancer, dramatically slammed the door on repeal-and-replace efforts when he joined two other Republicans in the wee hours Friday morning voting against a repeal measure intended to move the Senate into negotiations with the House.

McCain said it was time for Republicans and Democrats to work together and listen to the country’s governors about how best to fix the healthcare system, which should be music to the ears of governors like Baker.

The soap opera in Washington, D.C., was not lost on state policymakers. While some Democrats tried to link Baker’s MassHealth reforms to unpopular Republican healthcare positions in Congress, Massachusetts House Ways and Means Chairman Jeffrey Sanchez worried about plunging into MassHealth reform at home, knowing the complete disruption of the marketplace “could be one Tweet away.”

“This is not the end of our healthcare debate,” Sanchez said as criticism was expressed over Baker’s plan to move 140,000 MassHealth enrollees on to subsidized commercial plans with higher out-of-pocket costs.

The Gentlelady from Ashland took her own turn in the spotlight at Tuesday’s hearing when she was anything but gentle. Senate Ways and Means Chairperson Karen Spilka came ready to tango with with the administration’s trio of secretaries sent to defend and advocate for Baker’s plans to reform MassHealth.

Spilka made clear she believed the administration did not have “a monopoly on the ideas that are out there on healthcare,” and asked panel after panel to submit their own recommendations for lawmakers to consider in the coming weeks and months.

Sam Doran / State House News Service

Sen. Karen Spilka had harsh words for the Baker administration’s healthcare reform stance.

“This is an ongoing issue and there are other ways to go about savings, rather than necessarily moving people off of MassHealth,” Spilka said.

Building consensus for healthcare changes in Massachusetts, as in Washington, may be a difficult task, but the governor and legislative leaders were on the same page last week when it came time to finalize marijuana oversight and protections for pregnant workers.

Baker signed both bills upon his return from a political trip to Colorado, and in doing so helped cement the two biggest legislative achievements of the year outside of pay raises for public officials, which Baker opposed, and an annual state budget.

— Matt Murphy

ALSO ON THE AGENDA

  • Holiday for legislators, but likely not for sales tax
  • Warren, Markey and Healey on Senate healthcare vote
  • Watch: Baker signs long-awaited marijuana law
  • Cape legislators urge restoration of LGBTQ budget priorities
  • Ice Bucket Challenge will soon be state holiday

On Beacon Hill: Signed, sealed and delivered

Recap and analysis of the week in local, state and federal government
from State House News Service and Sun research.

BOSTON — A budget, a pot bill and a shuffle of House leadership. Teary goodbyes, promotions and demotions. Take a deep breath, it’s finally the weekend.

House Speaker Robert DeLeo opened the floodgates early last week when he announced he had chosen a successor to Brian Dempsey as Ways and Means chairman, though not necessarily a successor to DeLeo’s long-held speakership.

The call to the bullpen went to state Rep. Jeffrey Sánchez, a Jamaica Plain Democrat and the first Latino to hold the powerful position in the House. In time, and if history serves, Sánchez could one day become a contender for the throne, but for now he’s meeting staff and worrying about how to handle Gov. Charlie Baker’s budget vetoes — $320 million, to be exact.

Baker signed a $39.4 billion spending bill for fiscal 2018, striking $42 million in local earmarks and revising revenue projections downward by $749 million, below the mark  — 1.4 percent — legislators had agreed would be sufficient in light of sluggish growth over the past year.

Antonio Caban / State House News Service

Gov. Charlie Baker

Perhaps most significantly, Baker returned a $200 million assessment on employers — his idea in the first place — with a summer reading assignment for lawmakers. The governor said he wanted the assessment, which many prefer to call a tax, packaged with reforms to MassHealth eligibility that were laid aside by legislative budget negotiators. And he wants it in the next 60 days.

How to proceed now will likely be decided by a triumvirate of DeLeo, Sanchez and Rep. Peter Kocot, D-Northampton, and they’ve scheduled hearings on the issues this week.

House members arrived at the State House Monday prepared to ratify Sánchez’s appointment to lead the budget-writing committee, and most seemed supportive of the selection. But Sánchez’s elevation meant a line of dominoes would fall behind him, and for at least one representative, the news wasn’t good.

Kocot, the gentle giant from Western Mass., took over the Health Care Financing Committee from Sánchez and will work together with the new budget chief to respond to Baker’s budget amendment on MassHealth.

Caught in the dust cloud of rotating chairpersons and newly minted vice-chairpersons, Rep. Russell Holmes, D-Mattapan, the immediate past chairman of the Black and Latino Caucus and vice-chairperson of the Housing Committee, found himself without his post in leadership.

Holmes had the temerity to suggest that with Dempsey gone, more liberal factions of the House should have a conversation about who the heir-apparent to DeLeo should be, and even prepare for a speakership fight in 2019.

That apparently did not sit well in the speaker’s office, and few were buying DeLeo’s insistence that Holmes’s demotion had nothing to do with his comments, but rather teamwork and chemistry.

Rather than quiet Holmes, the speaker’s punitive action only seemed to embolden the legislator as the week wore on. “If they believe that, then call me because I have a bridge in Brooklyn that I want to sell them,” Holmes said, incredulous about DeLeo’s explanation.

While representatives contemplated their place in the new House depth chart, the six House and Senate negotiators working on a pot law compromise retreated to the private confines of the Members Lounge for the last time to sign a deal that will raise the tax on retail marijuana to 20 percent and create a new structure for regulation and local control over pot stores.

— Matt Murphy

ALSO ON THE AGENDA

  • Legal marijuana law awaits Baker signature
  • Chang-Diaz and Forry on pot, McGovern on #NoKidHungry, Healey on DACA
  • New Ways and Means chairperson pledges ‘thoughtful’ approach to MassHealth
  • Watch: DeLeo and Sánchez on historic chairmanship
  • Final tally: Tax revenues leave $431 million hole in fiscal 2017

Baker cuts $320M from budget, digs in on MassHealth reform [+ video]

BOSTON — Almost two weeks ago, the Democrat-controlled Legislature approved what would be the state’s first budget in excess of $40 billion.

Republican Gov. Charlie Baker said not so fast Monday to the already scaled back $40.2 billion spending plan.

Baker planned to sign a budget for fiscal 2018 that includes $39.4 billion in spending after he vetoed $320 million from the plan, and went even further than House and Senate budget negotiators to revise tax revenue projections downward for this year by $749 million.

The governor also returned to the Legislature a new assessment on employers that he initially proposed to help pay for growing MassHealth expenses, calling on lawmakers to act quickly to package the $200 million in new employer fees with MassHealth reforms that lawmakers laid aside during budget deliberations.

Watch: Baker and Polito press conference on fiscal 2018 budget

Legal marijuana deal includes 20 percent tax, significant shifts from ballot law [+ video]

BOSTON — Almost three weeks later than they had hoped, lawmakers struck an accord Monday on marijuana policy that would tax retail pot sales at a maximum rate of 20 percent and paves the way for those sales to begin in just less than a year.

House and Senate negotiators agreed after about three weeks of talks to a compromise bill that is expected to emerge for up-or-down votes in both branches today. The bill, as with all conference committee reports, will not be subject to amendment.

In addition to hiking the tax rate and altering the composition of the panel that will oversee the budding marijuana industry here, the deal also calls for an unusual strategy: linking the mechanism for banning future marijuana shops to how communities voted on the marijuana ballot law last year. And despite being almost three weeks late, legislative leaders said, the bill keeps retail marijuana shops on track for a July 2018 opening.

“We have protected the right of adults to grow, possess, and use marijuana. To give them access to a safe, legal supply, the bill removes barriers to the development of a legal market,” Sen. Patricia Jehlen, the Marijuana Policy Committee co-chair and lead Senate negotiator, said in a statement. “It protects the rights of medical marijuana patients, and gives opportunity to farmers and to people who have been harmed by the War on Drugs. The tax rate remains among the lowest in the country, and the same as in Oregon, often seen as successful.”

Watch: Pot panel talks compromise

Worcester Weekly: Mercantile Center beer festival + more, July 16-22

The most fun you’ll have with a calendar of events all week. And you just might learn something, too.

Tuesday, July 18 — “The Two Gentlemen of Verona,” 7-9 p.m., Sprinkler Factory, 38 Harlow St.  Never among Shakespeare’s blockbusters — it was among his first-known plays — “Verona” nonetheless endures as a popular staple for the scores of summer performers who worship at the altar of the Bard.

The Shakespeare Academy @ Stratford’s Alumni Co. adds a “1980’s romantic comedy twist” to the story of “four lovers’ lives thrown into a chaos filled with passionate love, heartbreak, betrayal and forgiveness. And, let’s not forget, an insane amount of laughs.” Suggested donation is $5.

Songs in the key of healing: Worcester Center for Expressive Therapies offers hope

The emerging studies supporting the transformative capabilities music has on human cognition are the basis for the Worcester Center for Expressive Therapies’  distinctive, thoroughly trained approach.

For the many clients the center takes, this creative wonderland is a space for community and healing. The center “is a small, functioning family unit,” says Kayla Daly, owner and director of the cozy, multi-sensory therapy space in the 255 Park Ave. office complex.

Since the center opened in 2013, it has incorporated a dynamic duo of board-certified clinical musicianship and licensed counseling to provide a multi-disciplinary therapy approach from a staff of highly trained clinicians. The four session rooms and sprawling studio room are filled with instruments, drawing desks, toys and more to create an atmosphere that’s immediately comforting.

The center functions as a family, Daly said, to provide “multi-sensory” clinical treatment with diversely trained counselors. It works with a mindset that uniquely approaches the challenge of incorporating counseling and music therapy. Each clinician at the center is well-equipped to rise to the challenge, because extensive certification and training in multiple fields are required.

Watch: Worcester Center for Expressive Therapies promotional video

Children’s Smile Coalition turning poverty upside down, one kid at a time

Over the last few years, the Children’s Smile Coalition has been helping children in Worcester County and beyond at a breakneck pace, expanding their work, and winning community awards all while remaining entirely nonprofit.

And there’s more to come. Which should come as no surprise to anyone who’s met Mary Ellen Wessell, the group’s executive director.

“The most important thing about this charity is that nobody gets paid,” Wessell, a 15-year resident of the Rochdale section of Leicester, said in a recent interview. Wessell and her staff receive no compensation for the volunteer work they do.

“One-hundred percent of all donations go to the programs. The executive director and all volunteers receive no compensation,” the CSC website states on the front page.

Wessell manages three initiatives that make up the coalition’s core: Santa’s Big League, Project KIN and Young Heroes Night. That’s in addition to an already jam-packed schedule. She is raising a 13-year-old daughter, Shelby, who will follow her footsteps to St. Peter-Marian next year, runs her own consulting firm, Baystate Business Solutions, has a part-time job at Tufts University, and is working to grow CSC.

More from the June 11-17 Worcester Sun:

On Beacon Hill: With potential $1B storm on radar, foggy fiscal forecast looms

Recap and analysis of the week in local, state and federal government
from State House News Service

BOSTON — Storm clouds have been gathering for months over state finances, but as the end of the fiscal year fast approaches it’s the dense fog that has rolled into Beacon Hill casting the darkest shadow.

May tax collections reported last week by the Department of Revenue solidified the status quo. The state is on track to finish the year in three weeks close to half a billion dollars short of revenue targets.

For the glass-half-full set, the fiscal drought did not get worse after last month. Taxes paid in May exceeded expectations by $30 million, ending a four-month slide and leaving a $439 million revenue hole to fill and one month of receipts left to tally.

But that may have been cold comfort for the penny pinchers in Secretary Kristen Lepore’s office who, according to Gov. Charlie Baker, have their scalpels out “nipping and tucking” to trim any fat from the budget bones, and probably a little bit of meat as well.

Antonio Caban / State House News Service

Gov. Charlie Baker

“Every year things happen, and because things happen there are many line items in the budget that don’t end up actually spending their full appropriation. We just started paying a lot more attention to that earlier than we normally would,” Baker said early in the week about how his administration is approaching this year’s budget-balancing Rubik’s Cube.

So what kinds of things have been happening? That’s anybody’s guess.

The governor’s budget shop — and the governor himself — has been tight-lipped about how it’s managing the state’s spending in the face of the revenue drizzle. And legislative leaders, after working themselves into a tizzy in December about the governor’s choices to cut $98 million, seem content to let him nip-tuck as much and as often as he sees fit.

House Speaker Robert DeLeo said last week he doesn’t know how the governor has been controlling spending, but hasn’t heard any complaints from advocates either. And Senate President Stanley Rosenberg said he’s confident the governor will share his strategy when he’s ready.

“So that’s his job, and we’ll work with him, but I’m hoping and looking forward to getting some more information soon,” he said in a radio interview.

So until Baker decides to let a little sunshine into his process, budget watchers will have to hold their breath and wait for the storm to pass.

The length of the storm is undetermined but it was punctuated Friday by news that Standard & Poor’s has lowered the state’s bond rating.

The Boston Globe also reported last week that days after House and Senate budget negotiators met for the first time Monday to begin the push-and-pull over the fiscal 2018 budget, top legislative and administration officials huddled with economic advisors to get a read on what to expect in fiscal 2018.

The report said some economists believe as much as a $1 billion will need to be taken out of the budgets passed by both the House and Senate — not surprising given tax collection trends — but DeLeo said the same day that no final decision had been made.

— Matt Murphy

ALSO ON THE AGENDA

  • Immigration bill prompts fiery debate, gubernatorial rebuke
  • Warren on financial predators; Markey on Trumpcare
  • Moore’s committee advances bill to curb campus sex assault
  • McGovern rails against proposed food benefit reduction
  • House pushes handheld cellphone ban for drivers