Eddy Furniss received a telephone call two months ago and scanned the caller ID.
“What in the world is the athletic director at LSU calling me for?” Furniss wondered.
The men exchanged pleasantries before Joe Alleva informed Furniss he’d soon receive an honor reserved for LSU baseball royalty.
Alleva revealed to the former power-hitting first baseman his No. 36 jersey will be retired before LSU’s April 22 game against Mississippi State.
“I don’t even know if I said anything for the other two minutes,” Furniss said Friday. “Just wiping tears from my eyes.”
“I said, ‘Joe, I don’t know what to tell you. That’s the craziest thing I’ve ever heard.’ ”
Since that conversation, Furniss told just those closest to him — his wife, Crystal, his three children and his parents — but was sworn to secrecy until the university released the news Friday afternoon, making Furniss the third man in LSU baseball history to have his number retired, joining former coach Skip Bertman and pitcher Ben McDonald.
“It’s company where you don’t even feel like you belong,” Furniss said. “I wasn’t a great athlete. I didn’t run well; I could hit a little bit. I went to the park and gave what I had and many times it was good enough. ... The biggest deal with me, I had so many good players and good teammates around me. I was just in the right place at the right position at exactly the right time to do what I did.”
A family practice physician in his native Nacogdoches, Texas, Furniss was inundated with congratulatory calls and text messages from former teammates and friends as he worked at his clinic Friday.
Furniss, who retired from baseball after five minor league seasons to focus on medicine, will join those teammates from 1996 at a 20-year reunion that same weekend. The team, Furniss said, will be honored April 23 — a day after his ceremony.
“I was never comfortable in the spotlight,” Furniss said. “I’m not the type of guy who really enjoys that. It really is uncomfortable because I don’t feel like I would have done any of that had it not been for the team. It’s not false bravado or being falsely humble; I really feel like the team did that. I really was around great people and that makes so much of the difference.”
The 1996 SEC Player of the Year and 1998 Dick Howser Trophy winner, Furniss was a three-time All-American and a member of LSU’s 1996 and ’97 national championship teams. He batted .403 in 1998, his senior season, belting 28 home runs and 27 doubles to go along with 76 RBIs.
Furniss is still the SEC’s all-time leader in hits, home runs, RBIs, doubles and total bases — records he’s surprised still stand as college baseball develops into a different era.
“I just hit,” Furniss said. “I just hit until I was tired. I found the most efficient way to hit. Now you can go to all these websites, and I’m looking and saying, ‘That’s exactly what I did. I didn’t know what I was called, but it’s what I did.’
“I don’t even know if I’d be recruited these days, the type of player I was. I was a big guy who stood over at first base and waited his turn to hit.”
Also a member of the LSU, College Baseball and Louisiana Sports halls of fame, Furniss becomes the 10th LSU athlete or coach to have a number retired, joining Bertman, McDonald, Billy Cannon, Tommy Casanova, Shaquille O’Neal, Bob Pettit, Rudy Macklin, Pete Maravich and Seimone Augustus.
Two other numbers — Wally Pontiff’s No. 31 and Robbie Smith’s No. 19 — were emblazoned on the outfield wall at the old Alex Box Stadium but the school only recognizes McDonald and Bertman’s numbers as retired. Smith, a pitcher under Bertman from 1984-85, was killed by a drunk driver in 1997 while on duty as a member of the Florida Highway Patrol. Pontiff was an LSU infielder who died in his sleep in 2002, just before his senior season.
Follow Chandler Rome on Twitter, @Chandler_Rome.