Meet Eddy Furniss, the greatest SEC hitter you've never heard of
Even sitting in his office on a quiet, summer Friday afternoon in Nacogdoches, Texas, Eddy Furniss is as dialed in as ever.
Today, he’s locked on a live stream of a Perfect Game high school showcase tournament. He can tell you the 90-foot running splits of some of the top competitors.
It’s been almost 20 years since Furniss last swung a bat competitively. Since a flurry of minor league coaches concocted at least one too many tweaks to a swing that still ranks him as the SEC’s all-time career leader in home runs (80) and RBIs (308)r. Even longer since he carried LSU to back-to-back national championships in 1996 and 1997, only to fizzle out in the minor leagues before joining the family business.
For over a decade, he has run a family medicine practice in his hometown. Same as his dad did when Eddy was growing up. He also owns D-BAT, a hitting and practice facility in nearby Arlington, and serves as the team physician for Nacogdoches High School’s varsity athletic programs.
His oldest son is preparing for an SEC baseball career of his own. In many ways, Eddy’s still not far from the game he loves.
But this wasn’t what he envisioned when receiving the 1998 Dick Howser trophy as college baseball’s most outstanding player.
“Some things in baseball,” he tells Saturday Down South over the murmur of the Perfect Game stream in the background, “you just don’t have control over.”
Nacogdoches is considered the “oldest town in Texas.” About 33,000 people live there, and it’s about a 2 1/2-hour drive straight North from Houston. Furniss’ hometown and current place of residence is home to Stephen F. Austin University and the state’s largest azalea garden.
It’s here that Furniss’ father built him a batting cage on the family’s 36-acre ranch. Every day, Eddy would take 200-300 swings.
“I don’t remember a week that went by from 6 years old up till I went to college that I didn’t hit baseballs,” Furniss said. “There wasn’t. It was a tradition to go out Christmas Day and hit.
“We didn’t have a lot of hitting coaches in the area at the time. My coaching was I just went out to the field and my dad yelled at me more to hit the ball harder and farther.”
Kids from the area rarely played travel ball. Furniss didn’t until high school. But the repetition and firm encouragement paid off.
The plan was always to go to medical school and join his dad’s local practice. Furniss’ grandfather had served in the Army Medical Corps during World War II. But when Furniss batted over .400 his senior season, and some of college baseball’s top programs came calling.
That included home-state Texas. Miami and Stanford, too. The Tigers beat them all in the College World Series during Furniss’ career.
LSU’s rabid fan base, its annual national title aspirations and a relationship with coach Skip Bertman dating to the 1992 Olympic Trials in which Furniss took part sold him on Baton Rouge. By his sophomore year in 1996, he was the SEC Player of the Year and part of the team that won it all in Warren Morris’ iconic College World Series walk-off against Miami.
“There were a lot of tough wins that season,” Furniss said. “Then in 1997, we hit a lot of home runs. It didn’t really feel like a grind that year.
“[Winning the national championship] felt inevitable.”
That season, Furniss hit 17 dingers and drove in 77. LSU hit 188 bombs — a record that’s unlikely to ever be touched — and won its second consecutive national title.
A power-hitting first baseman, he was drafted three times but opted to spend 4 years with the Tigers, earning college baseball MVP accolades as a senior. “Why go to the minors and the middle of nowhere and play in front of 10 people when I can play in front of 7,000 people and go for a possible three-peat? That was a no-brainer.”
Furniss actually struggled with confidence during the first half of his freshman year. Then came a road trip to Arkansas for which the Tigers enlisted a double-decker bus, beds and all.
But the most comfortable accouterments were reserved for upperclassmen; Furniss was given a table to sleep on. He didn’t get much rest, but he did tear through Ken Ravizza’s book “Heads-Up Baseball” on the way to Fayetteville. By the time LSU arrived, Furniss had developed a routine for before and during at-bats. Rhythmic breathing techniques and other psychological tweaks, too.
His first game at Arkansas, he hit 3 home runs. The next day, he hit another.
“I was able to get out of my own way mentally and become a better hitter,” Furniss said. “I always had the physical tools. I just needed the mental tools.”
But what happens when those get tampered with too much?
Like so many players before him, Furniss lived the hard life of a High-A minor leaguer. After the Pittsburgh Pirates took him in the 4th round, he made it to the Carolina Mudcats of Double A.
One of college baseball’s most accomplished athletes never got closer to the majors than that.
Thirteen towns. Eight states. At every stop, Furniss had a coach — usually with the best of attentions — trying to make his own climb through the ranks and offering tweaks to that swing developed during thousands of hours back in Nacogdoches.
Kick your leg differently. Choke up. Move your hands down. Track the pitch this way. Widen your stance. Close up your stance. It became overwhelming.
“I tried to be coachable, tried to be a team guy, but they tried to change my swing every different place I went,” said Furniss, who also spent time in the Athletics and Rangers organizations. “I tell kids to this day — trust what got you there and be stingy with changes that you make.”
By the age of 26, Furniss decided it was time to move on. Or rather, revert to Plan A.
He went to medical school at the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston and residency training at John Peter Smith Hospital in Fort Worth.
He also married his high school sweetheart, Crystal. They have three children.
Wilburn is the oldest, and he’s committed to Ole Miss as part of the Rebels’ 2022 recruiting class. He wears No. 18 just like his dad did during his youth ball days.
Now 45 years old, Furniss speaks with the warm, upbeat tone of a friendly Texan. When he really wants to emphasize a point, he’ll begin the phrase with “I tell you what.”
Would he change anything about the journey? Not really. Except …
“I wouldn’t have changed my swing.”
Furniss played during a time when advanced stats were just becoming a thing; Billy Bean was in charge of the A’s when they signed Furniss. When coaching his son and instructing young hitters, he applies the same scientific method he uses during his day job.
“Looking back as a 45-year-old, I would’ve said, ‘I appreciate you trying to help, but I’ve been hitting this way since forever and had a lot of success. I need to completely fail like this and be very stingy with the changes I make,'” he said. “Now you can measure everything — measure bat angle, bat velocity, attack angle. You can put dots on your skin and do motion capture for swings. … These days, why would we ever guess what we could measure?”
Ultimately, though, Furniss is a man at peace.
“I’m doing what I always wanted to do.”