Long before Yusei Kikuchi entertained eight MLB suitors, before Junichi Tazawa rattled the cage by skipping NPB to sign with the Red Sox, before MLB teams first took note of Yu Darvish, before Daisuke Matsuzaka attracted $51m in posting money, before Hideo Nomo 'retired', before Masanori Murakami became the first Japanese player to reach the majors, before Walter O'Malley tried to acquire Shigeo Nagashima, there was Eiji Sawamura.
November 20 marked the 75th anniversary of Sawamura's famous one-hit loss to the touring team of American all-stars. Sawamura, then 17, struck out Hall of Famers Lou Gerhig, Babe Ruth and Jimmie Foxx, but surrendered a solo home run in the 7th to Gerhig, which was all the Americans needed to win 1-0.
The Americans responded to the loss by trying to sign Sawamura. There are various retellings, but the story goes that a Pirates scout asked Sawamura to "autograph" a contract. Connie Mack also tried to acquire him for the A's, perhaps in a more above the board way. Sawamura refused and eventually went pro in Japan, but died in World War II. the Sawamura Award was established by NPB in 1947 (pre-dating the Cy Young Award).
The word "sempai" (先輩) roughly translates to "one who came before" or "senior", like an older kid at school, or Nomo to Matsuzaka. Prepend it with a "dai" (大), meaning "big", and you get "daisempai" (大先輩), as in someone who went to the school school, but graduated long before you even started. In a sense, Sawamura was the earliest predecessor to all the players I mentioned in the first paragraph.