Furniss fueled LSU’s most successful CWS run

COILED TO CRUSH:  LSU great Eddy Furniss and his powerful hitting led the Tigers to three straight College World Series, including championships in 1996 and 1997.

By JIM KLEINPETER, Written for the LSWA

Most inductees into any sports hall of fame have already achieved their dream.

Dr. Eddy Furniss is happily plowing ahead on his.

Furniss always knew he wanted to follow in his father’s footsteps and become a general practitioner in his home town of Nacogdoches, Texas. Along the way he become one of the most prolific hitters in the history of college baseball, helping LSU to a pair of national championships.

Furniss was already a member of the College Baseball Hall of Fame when he was inducted into the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame 10 years ago.

“I’m so honored; I had no idea this would ever happen to me, much less getting to go to LSU and having the four years I had there,” said Furniss, who won the Dick Howser Trophy as the nation’s best college player in 1998. “I didn’t write any of this down; I never wrote a list of goals like (LSU) Coach (Skip) Bertman always wanted us to do. It’s just not something you think about doing.

“I was in the right place at the right time with the right teams and the right part of a good lineup with a lot of good players. There were a lot of stars aligning for me.”

While Furniss never played an inning of major league ball after four years in the minors, he had already left his legacy. He held long-standing SEC career records for hits (349), home runs (80), runs batted in (309), doubles, (87) and total bases (689).

Furniss finished his career in the NCAA’s statistical ledger No. 3 all-time in total bases, No. 4 in home runs and doubles, and No. 5 in RBI. He posted a .371 lifetime batting average, improving his average each year after batting .326 as a freshman. In 1996 he helped LSU to its third NCAA title and won SEC Player of the Year honors by batting .374 and leading the nation with 26 home runs and 103 runs batted in.

He topped off his career with a .403 average in 1998 with 27 doubles, three triples, 28 homers, 85 runs and 76 RBI, despite being walked a career-high 72 times and striking out a career-low 40 times. He earned first-team all-America and all-SEC honors.

“He’s the best pure hitter I knew,” said former teammate Tom Bernhardt, now a youth baseball hitting instructor. “He was a great teammate. I’ve never seen someone as disciplined, on the field and off the field. There’s only a handful of guys I really respected. All around, Eddy had everything.”

Perhaps his most memorable hit was an eighth-inning home run against Long Beach State in a 1998 regional elimination game to tie the game and allow the Tigers to win in 11 innings on the way to a national title.

Three times he hit three homers in a game, once as a freshman against Arkansas, again as a sophomore against Georgia when the three dingers went to left, center and right field, and a year after that at Auburn.

Furniss said his three-homer game at Arkansas was a springboard performance.

“I had just read a book called ‘Heads Up Baseball,’ basically a mental approach to at-bats and how to approach adversity. I used the techniques to clear my head. That’s when I started to get my confidence. It got me thinking, ‘I can do this; I can be good here and contribute to the program.’ ”

From there, Furniss became nearly as much a clutch hitter as 2011 Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame inductee Todd Walker, constantly delivering big RBI.

“I had an almost unreasonable confidence in myself when I went to the plate,” he said. “It was almost delusional. Especially in big situations when the game was on the line, I knew I was going to get a hit. It wasn’t that I was being arrogant, I really did believe it. I’ve never been that confident in anything I’ve done in my life. I wanted to be the guy at the plate.”

Said former teammate Warren Morris: “I played with Todd Walker and there was no better college clutch hitter. Eddy broke all of his records which says a lot. I knew the first time I saw him in the cages that he had a natural swing. He really didn’t have to change anything. He was able to drive the ball, use his body and get the leverage and torque to drive the ball, hit it where it was pitched.”

Furniss was even more diligent in the classroom, earning Academic All-American honors with grade point averages of 3.5 or higher his last three seasons as a pre-med zoology major and with an eye toward his future. Morris recalls often passing his apartment late at night and seeing Furniss up studying or working on a paper.

He enjoyed some success in the minors after being drafted in the fourth round by Pittsburgh in 1998. He spent time in the Oakland and Texas systems until 2002 when he returned to medical school and finished his residency at University of Texas Health Science Center in Houston.

“When I was in high school always planned to be a doctor and come back to Nacogdoches,” Furniss said. “The baseball was an accidental success, something I happened to be good at and so my plan was I’d do it as long as possible. I could always go back to being a doctor.”

Bertman can hardly speak glowingly enough about Furniss’ prowess on and off the field. Bertman instructed coaches not to “coach” Furniss as a hitter because he was blessed with a natural swing. But Furniss also had an unmatched work ethic and self-motivated desire to improve every aspect of his game each year.

“Eddy was a really hard worker,” Bertman said. “His arms were long enough to cover the whole plate from one stance. He never had to change his approach to hitting. The coaches were told not to coach him and I mean that sincerely. I think he was the best four-year player in college baseball.”

As a team player, Bertman said he could hardly have dreamed up Furniss. He took all of his lab classes during the fall so he could concentrate on baseball in the spring and never heard a cross word from him. His teammates concurred.

“To call him a nice guy, that’s an overstatement,” Morris said. “I don’t know if I’ve ever seen him get upset. Every day was like a field trip with him. He loved playing the game. His energy and enthusiasm for it was contagious. I never heard him complain about anything.”    

With LSU trailing in what would be Furniss’ final career at-bat in the 1998 College World Series, Furniss worked a USC pitcher for a walk rather than hack away for a memorable final plate appearance. It paid off when teammate Jeff Leaumont followed with a three-run homer.

“Most players would have swung for the fences,” Bertman said.

“He was a great student and married his high school sweetheart. . . . I don’t suppose he’s ever done anything wrong. He was a pleasure to coach, pleasure to play against for the other coaches, never showed anybody up or mouthed off. He’s a Hall of Fame human being.”

Photo courtesy of LSU Athletics