Kolten Wong is a native Hawaiian who bats left-handed and rates as a prized player for the Cardinals.
In 1977, the same description fit for Joe DeSa.
Wong, a second baseman and the 2011 first-round Cardinals draft choice, made his major-league debut with St. Louis on Aug. 16, 2013. He became the first native Hawaiian to play for the Cardinals since DeSa debuted with them in 1980.
DeSa, 17, was selected by St. Louis in the third round of the 1977 draft. A left-handed batter, he had been a high school standout in Honolulu.
DeSa, 5 feet 11, 170 pounds, entered the Cardinals’ minor-league system with a reputation as a line-drive hitter and smooth-fielding first baseman.
That reputation proved accurate.
In 1979, with the Cardinals’ Class AA Arkansas club, DeSa hit .317 with 32 doubles, 13 home runs and 86 RBI. He had 147 hits in 130 games.
In a 1979 interview with Larry Harnly of The State Journal-Register of Springfield, Ill., Cardinals manager Ken Boyer said of DeSa, “He’s about as good a looking hitter as you will see.”
No room at first
Though DeSa was performing to expectations, his path to the majors was blocked by Keith Hernandez, the Cardinals’ regular first baseman and 1979 National League batting champion.
DeSa was promoted to the Cardinals’ Class AAA Springfield (Ill.) team in 1980. The Cardinals’ 1980 media guide described DeSa as “a line-drive hitter with some power.”
He hit .293 with 25 doubles in 123 games for Springfield and was rated the best defensive first baseman in the league.
In September 1980, the Cardinals, far out of contention, called up DeSa.
After going hitless in his first five big-league at-bats, DeSa got hits in the last three games he played for St. Louis. His first was a pinch-hit single against the Expos’ Bill Gullickson on Sept. 30, 1980. Boxscore
In seven games for the 1980 Cardinals, DeSa batted .273 (3-for-11).
Those would be the only games he’d play for St. Louis.
DeSa, converting from first base to the outfield, played the next three seasons for Cardinals Class AAA clubs. Then he became a minor-league free agent and signed with the White Sox.
In 1985, DeSa returned to the big leagues, appearing in 28 games for the White Sox, managed by Tony La Russa, and batting .182 (8-for-44) with two home runs.
DeSa spent the 1986 season with Buffalo, the Class AAA club of the White Sox, and was named the Bisons’ most valuable player. He hit 17 home runs and had 83 RBI.
After the season, DeSa became a minor-league free agent again, signed with the Royals and went to Puerto Rico to play winter league ball.
On Dec. 20, 1986, DeSa, 27, was killed in a car accident in Puerto Rico. He left behind a wife, Margarita, and a year-old son, Joe.
White Sox players collected more than $3,000 for his funeral expenses, The Sporting News reported. The Bisons established a memorial fund and raised nearly $7,000. The Class AAA club also established the annual Joe DeSa Most Inspirational Player Award. It still is presented to a Buffalo player near the end of each season.
On Aug. 16, 1987, the White Sox presented DeSa’s wife and son with a check for $120,000 in a ceremony honoring DeSa before a Pacific Coast League game between Portland and Hawaii in Honolulu.
Previously: Warren Spahn and his Cardinals connection