Roger Cohen, New York Times’ op-ed columnist wrote under the caption, “Ambivalence about America” in New York Times August 18 issue.;

Geostrategic shifts over the past year indicate that the United States is Imperial Rome, A.D. 376, with various violent enemies playing the role of the Visigoths, Huns, Vandals et al.; the loss at home of what Edward Gibbon, the historian of Rome’s fall, called “civic virtue,” as narrow interests paralyze politics; the partial handover of American security to private military contractors just as a declining Rome increasingly entrusted its defense to mercenaries - - and the apparent powerlessness of a leader given to talk of the limits of what the United States can do. There is no record of the Emperor Valens’s saying, as Obama did, “You hit singles, you hit doubles,” but perhaps he thought it. http://www.nytimes.com/2014/08/19/opinion/roger-cohen-ambivalence-about-america.

I don’t understand what “You hit singles, you hit doubles,” mean? In what context has President Obama delivered this phrase? Is it associated with a serial baseball hits? Does it mean the U.S. has suffered repeated internal and external difficulties?

  • By "serial baseball hits," do you mean that "hit doubles" reads to you as meaning two hits in a row?
    – 01d55
    Aug 20, 2014 at 17:16
  • Singles and Doubles are not serial hits. A single takes you to one base (of four), a Double to second base in one go. Two singles are just two singles.
    – Oldcat
    Aug 20, 2014 at 19:13
  • Clearly the Roman legions under Valens were built for the three-run home run—but they had a lot of guys who could take a walk, so they had a high on-base percentage even though they struck out a lot.
    – Sven Yargs
    Aug 20, 2014 at 20:14

1 Answer 1


This is indeed a baseball reference. To paraphrase his statements (as I read them in The Washington Post), Obama was making the point that while home runs (scoring a run by hitting the ball) are exciting, singles and doubles (getting on first and second base respectively) can be critical to winning the game even if they don't excite the crowd in the same way.

What he means in a broader sense is that his foreign policy isn't flashy and thrilling, but his efforts are intended to make slow, steady forward progress. He is more interested in playing it safe and avoiding errors than he is in impressing people with a show that might not pay off.

I would be remiss if I didn't mention that I think he is implying that displaying aggression and threatening military action is a "home run": it is seems strong, virile, and sexy, so there is pressure to behave that way so that our country continues to seem like a superpower. On the other hand, negotiating peaceful relations is our "singles and doubles": it is boring and makes us look like a bunch of sissies who can't get things done.

This is more expressive if you know baseball, because getting players on base makes it more likely that you will score more runs than a team that only hits homers. Having home run hitters is fine, if they can hit them and if they are in the right place in your lineup, but home run attempts are more likely to become outs. It's better strategically to have players who can get base hits (singles, doubles, triples) most of the time than to have players who can hit home runs some of the time.

  • 1
    Additionally, Obama actually said "You hit singles, you hit doubles; every once in a while we may be able to hit a home run." I think that clearly supports the baseball reference. Aug 20, 2014 at 8:40
  • @Phil Yes. And even without the rest of the quotation, it must be a baseball reference. It doesn't make sense in any other context.
    – Kit Z. Fox
    Aug 20, 2014 at 12:51
  • You've never played darts, I take it? Aug 20, 2014 at 15:47
  • @Phil Yes, I am actually quite good at darts.
    – Kit Z. Fox
    Aug 20, 2014 at 16:46

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