Where in the world is Ken Griffey Jr.? The center fielder was one of the biggest stars in baseball and one of the biggest stars in America throughout the ’90s. He played the game like no one else, being inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2016 with the highest vote percentage of all time, earning 99.3%. But, what ever happened to him? Why does he not have the same legacy of comparable sports stars like Michael Jordan? “American Prodigy: The Kid” is looking at Ken Griffey Jr.’s missing legacy, and what it says about baseball, race, celebrity, and success in America.
“American Prodigy: The Kid” is hosted by Seattle musician and close childhood friend of Griffey, Xola Malik, better known by his stage name Kid Sensation. Alongside producer Alex Ward, the two are rehashing the life of Griffey: from the top-ranked high school son of an MLB All-Star and World Series Champion, to his final drive from Seattle to Florida in the middle of a series against the Twins.
Besides being a friend to The Kid, Kid Sensation has insider experience when it comes to celebrity from a young age, as well as the scene in Seattle where the two met. He and Griffey were fast friends, neither wanting tickets to shows or games from the other. Malik would let Griffey try his hand at rapping and Griffey would let Malik into the batting cage to try to hit a ball. As Malik put it, it worked, because every rapper wants to be an athlete and every athlete wants to be a rapper.
Despite their closeness, Malik discloses that they won’t be able to convince Griffey to be on “American Prodigy: The Kid” – especially if he is being compared to Michael Jordan. Like Jordan, he was a ’90s cultural icon: both transcended their sports, Griffey appeared on iconic shows like The Simpsons and Fresh Prince, Jordan starred in Space Jam. And while Jordan’s legacy lives on, you’d be hard-pressed to find someone who has never heard his name while Griffey’s seems to have faded.
Is it because he never won a World Series title? Is it because baseball’s popularity has only been declining in recent decades? Griffey is credited with saving the Seattle baseball scene, making the Mariners the hottest ticket in the Pacific Northwest. Was it the 1994 strike that has caused baseball to lose it status as America’s past time?
Malik still gives talks at high schools in the Seattle area, giving a pep talk on getting the potential out of themselves and staying true to who they are – the whole shebang. He tells his story of being a product of a single parent household below the poverty line, working hard to build his craft, and succeeding beyond what he thought possible. And, as a way to get the high schoolers more excited, he shares some pictures of him and his celebrity friends – people like Bobby Wagner, The Rain Man/Shawn Kemp, and Sir Mixalot. And when he got to the picture of him and Ken Griffey Jr., he was met with blank stares from the high schoolers, and slack jaws from their teachers.
What happened to this legend? Where is the legacy of Ken Griffey Jr. and all that he did for baseball? Why aren’t we getting a 10-part ESPN Last Dance documentary on him? Listen to “American Prodigy: The Kid” to hear more about this misunderstood superstar.