the charm of a backpedaling shoulder shrug

ironman2012

Senior Member
Chinese
Hi,

Babe Ruth, the 20th century’s first star, was a gust of fat bravado and drunken talent, while Jordan ended the century by proving the elegance of resolve; Babe’s pointing to the bleachers replaced by the charm of a backpedaling shoulder shrug. Jordan symbolized success by not sullying his brand with his politics, his opinion or superstar personality.

(This article is about the comeback of NBA Michael Jordan, and I can't find its origin with my search engine. Here is a Chinese website about it.)

I know "backpedal" means “to reverse one's previous stand on a matter”, but I don't know what the blue part means.

Thanks in advance!
 
  • lingobingo

    Senior Member
    English - England
    A shrug of the shoulders indicates “I don’t know” and/or (as in this case) “I don’t really care” / “Who cares?”.

    A backpedalling shoulder shrug is one that means I don’t want to get involved / leave me out of it. It’s a sign that you’re backing away from the issue.
     

    Barque

    Senior Member
    Tamil
    Bleachers are bench seats at sports stadiums. It appears Babe Ruth ended his career still trying to "connect" to the audience, while Jordan ended it with a shrug of the shoulders while backpedalling (walking backwards, as you might do while retreating from something). Both expressions are used figuratively. I suppose it means Ruth ended his career a little reluctantly, while Jordan went away with less fuss.

    Slowly cross-posted.
     

    ironman2012

    Senior Member
    Chinese
    Bleachers are bench seats at sports stadiums. It appears Babe Ruth ended his career still trying to "connect" to the audience, while Jordan ended it with a shrug of the shoulders while backpedalling (walking backwards, as you might do while retreating from something). Both expressions are used figuratively. I suppose it means Ruth ended his career a little reluctantly, while Jordan went away with less fuss.
    Thank you. I thought "Babe’s pointing to the bleachers replaced by the charm of a backpedaling shoulder shrug" means Babe used to point to spectators while playing, and Jordan used to give shoulder shrug while playing.
     

    kentix

    Senior Member
    English - U.S.
    There is a lot of cultural context here. This is pretty much right.
    Babe’s pointing to the bleachers replaced by the charm of a backpedaling shoulder shrug" means Babe used to point to spectators while playing, and Jordan used to give shoulder shrug while playing.
    Babe Ruth didn't do that all the time. He only did it once. But it was a VERY famous incident, which is still probably the single most defining moment of his career. He wasn't pointing to the spectators, he was pointing to the place where he was going to hit the ball. He was making a prediction that was almost impossible to deliver on. It's very difficult to hit the ball at all, let alone to a specific spot, let alone all the way over the outfield wall where the spectators are, let alone on demand. And yet he delivered on that promise and it became legendary. That was part of his larger-than-life personality.

    I don't follow basketball but I think the Michael Jordan reference is to his reaction after making a spectacular play. When you make a basket in basketball you immediately go on defense and so that's why he was backpedaling, to get back to his side of the court while keeping his eye on the other team. That's normal. But what I think they are highlighting is the look on his face and the shoulder shrug - which is his way of saying "I made that look easy, didn't l?" He just made a great play others couldn't make and he's saying "That was no big deal. I can do that all day."

    Like the Babe Ruth incident, it's about a player who is in full control of the game.

    Neither reference is about how they ended their careers. The time references were to the beginning and end of the century. And the style of the sports stars at either end.

    So backpedaling here has its everyday, literal meaning - running/moving backwards. That's just part of basketball.
     
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    Barque

    Senior Member
    Tamil
    Well, you'd probably know more about this than me.:)

    I did think the reference to Babe Ruth's pointing might relate to a specific incident but then because of the way the reference to Jordan was worded, I decided they were both figurative.

    Looks like you were right, Ironman.
     

    kentix

    Senior Member
    English - U.S.
    Here's the Wikipedia article about Babe Ruth's "called shot". Of course, which maybe I should have mentioned, there is controversy about it. Many people are skeptical that he was pointing to center field or making that prediction. But that legend does exist and is widely believed. The pointing really happened, the question is: where was he actually pointing, and what did he mean by it? After he hit the home run, maybe it was too good a story not to believe or for him to contradict.

    What made it a bigger story, too, was that it happened in one of the games of the season-ending series championship (the World Series), where the results of the entire season were on the line. So it was a high-stakes situation, adding to the legend. They won the game, the series and therefore the championship.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Babe_Ruth's_called_shot
     

    PaulQ

    Banned
    UK
    English - England
    To me, to backpedal = to retreat from a previously stated position.

    "He initially claimed that he was at his brother's house when the crime occurred, However, when he was told that his brother had been at the football match at the time, he backpedalled [on this] and claimed he had merely knocked on the door of his brother's house."
     

    kentix

    Senior Member
    English - U.S.
    To me, to backpedal = to retreat from a previously stated position.
    That's the everyday "figurative" meaning.:)

    In athletics, there's a literal meaning. Running backwards as part of the job you're doing - usually involving guarding another player or avoiding another player.

    WordReference Random House Unabridged Dictionary of American English © 2019
    back-ped•al (bakped′l), v.i., -aled, -al•ing or (esp. Brit.) -alled, -al•ling.
    1. to retard the forward motion by pressing backward on the pedal, esp. of a bicycle with coaster brakes.
    2. to retreat from or reverse one's previous stand on any matter;
      shift ground:to back-pedal after severe criticism.
    3. [Boxing.]to retreat from an opponent, esp. by stepping rapidly backward.
    I would say not limited to boxing, though.
     

    kentix

    Senior Member
    English - U.S.
    Maybe it's not a BE thing. That meaning wasn't in all the definitions.

    Added:
    Definitely less common in BE
    (within the constraints of what an ngram measures, in sports it might be more spoken than written)
    https://books.google.com/ngrams/graph?content=backpedal:eng_gb_2012,backpedal:eng_us_2012&year_start=1800&year_end=2012&corpus=15&smoothing=3&share=&direct_url=t1;,backpedal:eng_gb_2012;,c0;.t1;,backpedal:eng_us_2012;,c0
    It's kind of interesting. They followed more or less the same path from 1940 to 1970 and then BE use evened out (2010 use was less than twice the 1970 level) while AE use skyrocketed (2010 use five times the 1970 level).
     
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    ironman2012

    Senior Member
    Chinese
    ... I think the Michael Jordan reference is to his reaction after making a spectacular play. ... He just made a great play others couldn't make and he's saying "That was no big deal. I can do that all day."
    Thank you very much. I wonder if I understand the above correctly: after he made a spectacular play, he shrugged shoulder while running backwards, as if saying "That was no big deal. I can do that all day."
     

    kentix

    Senior Member
    English - U.S.
    He was running backwards just because he had to get to the other end of the court for the next part of the game.

    But I think the shoulder shrug was his way of answering the question "How did you do that?" Answer: "I don't know. I just did, because I'm very good." Somebody who followed basketball at that time might be able to confirm that or offer another explanation.
     
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