Former Red Sox First Baseman Bill Buckner Dies At 69

Boston Red Sox first baseman Bill Buckner is shown in March 1986.

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Being remembered for a mistake is hard. Being the living symbol of 86 years of futility is just about impossible.

But that’s exactly what Bill Buckner was to Boston Red Sox fans for nearly 20 years.

Buckner, an All-Star and Gold Glove baseball player who played in the major leagues for 22 years, died Monday. He was 69.

“After battling the disease of Lewy Body Dementia, Bill Buckner passed away early the morning of May 27th surrounded by his family,” according to a statement from his family shared by the Red Sox. “Bill fought with courage and grit as he did all things in life. Our hearts are broken but we are at peace knowing he is in the arms of his Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.”

Buckner built up an impressive record as a player, with more than 1,000 runs scored during his career. He was an All-Star in 1981 while playing for the Chicago Cubs. But Buckner found it hard to shake a mistake he made during game six of the 1986 World Series against the New York Mets.

The Sox had a two-run lead, and were one strike away from winning their first World Series championship since 1918. But the Mets clawed back from the brink to tie the game in the 10th inning. With a runner on second base, a base hit would give the Mets the win and force a game seven.

It turns out they only needed the most famous error in baseball history.

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Mets player Mookie Wilson hit a grounder toward first base — as the announcer called it, “a little roller up along first.” Buckner ran toward the ball, took a wide stance, reached down to scoop it up — and the ball rolled right between his legs.

“It gets through Buckner!” the announcer says, shocked, as a Met crosses home plate. “The Mets win it!”

The error forced a game seven, which the Mets won. And the error turned Bill Buckner into New England’s scapegoat.

“People always ask me what I thought about when I missed the ground ball,” he told NPR in 2011. “My first thought was, ‘Wow, we get to play in the seventh game of the World Series … We’ll get ’em tomorrow.’ “

Buckner played for a few more years, retiring in 1990 and moving his family to Meridian, Idaho — where most people hadn’t heard of him, or his World Series gaffe. It wasn’t until 2004 that Buckner finally found redemption, once the Red Sox finally won their first World Series in 86 years.

Time and winning heal all sports wounds — and the fans and media were no longer so angry at Buckner. When Buckner returned to Fenway Park for the 2008 Red Sox home opener, he was greeted with open arms — and a two-minute ovation.

“It was awesome,” Buckner told NPR. “The real cool thing about it was the fans … were sincere,” he said. “I think they understood all the crap I went through, and they were always good to me.”

Perhaps the fans’ sentiment was best summed up by the the next day’s cover headline in the Boston Herald: “All is Forgiven.”

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‘This Case Will Set A Precedent’: First Major Opioid Trial To Begin In Oklahoma

The first case in a flood of litigation nationwide against opioid drug manufacturers will begin on Tuesday in this courthouse in Norman, Okla.

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All eyes will be on Oklahoma this week when the first case in a flood of litigation against an opioid drug manufacturer begins on Tuesday.

Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter’s suit alleges Johnson & Johnson, the nation’s largest drugmaker, helped ignite a public health crisis that has killed thousands of state residents.

With just two days to go before the trial, one of the remaining defendants, Teva Pharmaceuticals of Jerusalem, announced an $85 million settlement with the state on Sunday. The money will be used for litigation costs and an undisclosed amount will be allocated “to abate the opioid crisis in Oklahoma,” according to a press release from Hunter’s office.

In its own statement, Teva said the settlement does not establish any wrongdoing on the part of the company, adding Teva, “has not contributed to the abuse of opioids in Oklahoma in any way.”

That leaves Johnson & Johnson as the sole defendant.

Court filings accuse the company of overstating the benefits of opioids and understating their risks in marketing campaigns that duped doctors into prescribing the drugs for ailments not approved by regulators.

The bench trial — with a judge and no jury — is poised to be the first of its kind to play out in court.

Nora Freeman Engstrom, a professor at Stanford Law school, said lawyers in the other cases and the general public are eager to see what proof Hunter’s office offers the court.

“We’ll all be seeing what evidence is available, what evidence isn’t available and just how convincing that evidence is,” she says.

Most states and more than 1,600 local and tribal governments are suing drugmakers and distributors. They are trying to recoup billions of dollars spent on addressing the fallout tied to opioid addiction.

Initially, Hunter’s lawsuit included Purdue Pharma, the maker of OxyContin. In March, Purdue Pharma settled with the state for $270 million. Soon after, Hunter dropped all but one of the civil claims, including fraud, against the remaining defendants. Teva settled for $85 million in May, leaving Johnson & Johnson as the only opioid manufacturer willing to go to trial with the state.

Hunter believes the state has a strong case.

“We have looked at literally millions of documents, taken hundreds of depositions, and we are even more convinced that these companies are the proximate cause for the epidemic in our state and in our country,” Hunter says.

Precedent-setting case

The companies involved have a broad concern about what their liability might be, says University of Kentucky law professor Richard Ausness.

“This case will set a precedent,” he says. “If Oklahoma loses — of course they’ll appeal if they lose — but the defendants may have to reconsider their strategy.”

With hundreds of similar cases pending — especially a mammoth case pending in Ohio — the state’s strategy will be closely watched.

“And of course lurking in the background is the multi-state litigation in Cleveland, where there will ultimately be a settlement in all likelihood, but the size of the settlement and the terms of the settlement may be influenced by Oklahoma,” says Ausness.

‘There’s nothing wrong with producing opioids’

But the legal case is complicated. Unlike tobacco, where states won a landmark settlement, Ausness points out that opioids serve a medical purpose.

“There’s nothing wrong with producing opioids. It’s regulated and approved by the Federal Drug Administration, the sale is overseen by the Drug Enforcement Administration, so there’s a great deal of regulation in the production and distribution and sale of opioid products,” Ausness explains. “They are useful products so this is not a situation where the product is defective in some way.”

It’s an argument that has found some traction in court. Recently, a North Dakota judge dismissed all of that state’s claims against Purdue, a big court win for the company. In a written ruling that the state says it will appeal, Judge James Hill questioned the idea of blaming a company that makes a legal product for opioid-related deaths.

“Purdue cannot control how doctors prescribe its products and it certainly cannot control how individual patients use and respond to its products,” the judge wrote, “regardless of any warning or instruction Purdue may give.”

Now the Oklahoma case rests entirely on a claim of public nuisance, which refers to actions that harm members of the public, including injury to public health.

“It’s sexy,” Ausness says. “You know ‘public nuisance’ makes it sound like the defendants are really bad.”

If the state’s claim prevails, Big Pharma could have to spend billions of dollars in Oklahoma helping ease the epidemic. “It doesn’t diminish the amount of damages we believe we’ll be able to justify to the judge,” Hunter says, estimating a final payout could run into the “billions of dollars.”

Hunter’s decision to go it alone and not join with a larger consolidated case could mean a quicker resolution for the state, or no money all, Ausness says.

“Particularly when we’re talking about [attorneys general], who are politicians, who want to be able to tell the people, ‘Gee, this is what I’ve done for you.’ They are not interested in waiting two or three years [for a settlement], they want it now,” he says. “Of course the risk of that is you may lose.”

Greg and Judy hold hands at their home in Guthrie, Okla. The couple can’t find integrated mental health and opioid addiction treatment for Greg in their area.

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Looking for treatment

Oklahoma has the second highest uninsured rate in the nation and little money for public health. The state is trying to win money from the drug companies to pay for treatment for people like Greg, who uses drugs and is afraid he’ll lose his job if we use his last name.

Greg and his wife Judy say they haven’t been able to find the integrated treatment that Greg needs for both his opioid addiction and his bipolar disorder. It’s either one or the other.

“They don’t give you … a treatment plan for both,” Judy says. “They just say, ‘Here, you can talk to this person.’ They don’t recognize that it’s like self-medicating.”

The couple live in Guthrie, Okla., about an hour north of the courthouse where the opioid trial will take place. Greg says he’s been addicted to opioids for 11 years. People with prescriptions sell him their pills — sometimes Greg binges and takes 400 milligrams of morphine at once, a huge dose.

Of the $270 million Purdue settlement, $200 million is earmarked for an addiction research and treatment center in Tulsa, though no details have been released. An undisclosed amount of the $85 million Teva settlement will also go to abating the crisis.

Judy hopes that the treatment center may eventually help Greg.

“I wish he would stop using [opioids], but I love him. I’ll always be here,” she said.

This story is part of NPR’s reporting partnership with StateImpact Oklahoma and Kaiser Health News.

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4 Takeaways From The European Parliament Election Results

A woman exits a voting booth with curtains depicting the European Union flag in Baleni, Romania, on Sunday.

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Europe’s traditional centrist coalition lost its majority in the European Union’s parliamentary elections Sunday, with far-right populist parties and liberal, pro-European Union parties both gaining ground. The results suggest a complicated future for the EU, as voters look for new ways forward.

More than 50 percent of European voters turned out last week to vote in the parliamentary elections, the highest turnout in two decades and a sharp increase from the last election in 2014.

Here’s what you need to know from the results.

The center-left, center-right coalition lost its majority

The center-right group known as the European People’s Party (EPP) and the center-left Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats (S&D) held 54 percent of the seats before the vote. Now they’re down to 43 percent, according to Sunday’s results. The two blocs together lost more than 70 seats, along with the majority they held for decades, according to NPR’s Sylvia Poggioli.

The results suggest that European centrists will have to reach out to and unite more broadly with liberal coalitions in order to affect change — and maintain authority — in the EU.

The far-right gained ground — but not as much as expected

Matteo Salvini, Italy’s Deputy Prime Minister and leader of the right-wing League party, speaks at a news conference following the European Parliament election results on Monday in Milan.

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Populist, euroskeptic parties across Europe saw gains, but less than what some pre-election polls had predicted — and what pro-EU forces had feared. And the various nationalist parties’ differences over issues like migration and attitudes toward Russia could cloud prospects for a united right.

“What happened was not really what a lot of people were fearing, that there would be a surge of the far-right populists,” former Swedish Prime Minister and now co-chair of the European Council on Foreign Relations Carl Bildt told NPR on Monday. “There was an increase by the far-right, but fairly marginal and far less than what people had predicted.”

Because the gains were smaller than expected, the far-right likely won’t be able to reshape the future of Europe by itself, says NPR’s Poggioli, but it may be able to obstruct the legislative process. Many attribute the victories on the far-right to high unemployment rates, security concerns after several terrorist attacks and tensions over migration.

In France, the far-right National Rally party of Marine Le Pen narrowly beat French President Emmanuel Macron’s party coalition. Though Le Pen’s party won by less than 1 percent, with 23 percent of the vote, she dubbed it a “victory for the people” on Twitter.

The League, Italy’s far-right populist party led by Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini, saw a sweeping victory, garnering more than 34 percent of the country’s vote.

“Not only is the League the top party in Italy, Marine Le Pen is the top party in France, Nigel Farage is the top party in the U.K. So Italy, France, the U.K., it’s a sign of a Europe that’s changing,” Salvini said at a press conference after the victory.

In Hungary, the nationalist Fidesz party of Prime Minister Viktor Orbán took more than 52 percent of the vote.

In Austria, conservative Chancellor Sebastian Kurz’s Austrian People’s Party won the election Sunday, but Kurz was ousted Monday when he lost a no-confidence vote stemming from a scandal that erupted last week over its coalition partner, the far-right Freedom Party. That party fared worse than it had in the previous European election.

Though many of the far-right parties of Europe share the goal of weakening the European Union, they clash on other pressing issues. In Italy, for instance, Salvini, though anti-immigration, has advocated for the relocation of asylum seekers across the EU. Hungary’s Orbán has pushed to close borders.

“We reject migration; and we would like to see leaders in position in the European Union who reject migration, who would like to stop it and not manage it,” Orbán wrote in a statement after casting his vote Sunday.

Europeans are concerned about the environment

The Greens, a party coalition focusing on environmental issues, went from 52 seats in the European Parliament in 2014 to 69 in 2019, making them the fourth largest voting bloc in the EU.

Members and supporters of the Greens coalition celebrate in Berlin after the announcement of the first forecast for the European elections.

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The results, the strongest ever for the Greens, indicate that many Europeans are growing increasingly concerned about climate change and the environment. Recently, across northern Europe, young people have been protesting what they see as governmental inaction on combating climate change.

In Germany, the Greens took 21 percent of the vote, second only to German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats, part of the center-right EPP European parliamentary bloc. Since the last election in 2014, Merkel’s party lost 6 percentage points, while the Greens gained nearly 10 points.

The Greens also saw gains in France, the Netherlands, Ireland, Finland, Denmark and Belgium, among others.

“The Greens and the Liberals were the winners of the day,” Sweden’s Carl Bildt told NPR.

The U.K. doubles down on Brexit

Brexit Party leader Nigel Farage arrives at a Brexit party on Monday in London.

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Voters in the United Kingdom weren’t initially even supposed to participate in this election; they were supposed to have left the EU by the end of March. But with several delays — and plans for leaving now set for October — U.K. voters had to take part, and gave the new Brexit Party, led by populist Nigel Farage, more than 30 percent of the vote.

In contrast, Prime Minister Theresa May’s Conservative Party ended up in fifth place, with 8.7 percent of the vote. “This is the worst showing by the Conservative Party since the 1830s,” says NPR’s Frank Langfitt.

The Labour Party also fared poorly, down 10 percentage points since 2014. Both the Labour and Conservative parties wavered on finding a clear position on Brexit, and the vote seems to indicate, Langfitt says, that voters rewarded clarity on the issue of leaving the EU. Liberal Democrats and other pro-EU parties did well.

“Never before in British politics has a new party, launched just six weeks ago, topped the polls in a national election,” Farage said after his election as a member of the European Parliament. “There’s a huge message here, a massive message here.”

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Sanders, Ocasio-Cortez Propose Banking Bill Aimed At ‘Loan Sharks’

Americans have more than $1 trillion dollars in credit card debt, according to the Federal Reserve, and the interest rates on credit cards are at a record high.

That’s the backdrop for a bill introduced earlier this month by Sen. Bernie Sanders and backed in the House by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez that would cap all credit card interest rates at 15 percent. Here & Now‘s Peter O’Dowd speaks with reporter Renae Merle (), who covers Wall Street for The Washington Post.

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