There’s certain names in sports that when evoked make you sit up and take notice.
Any New Orleans Saint who equals any of the feats accomplished by Drew Brees is well on their way to being special. Same goes for a hoopster putting up Michael Jordan-esque numbers on the court or a baseball player doing things not accomplished since the halcyon days Babe Ruth or Mickey Mantle.
When it comes to LSU baseball, the names don’t get more hallowed than Eddy Furniss. The most feared slugger of the Gorilla Ball Era, Furniss’ name litters the Southeastern Conference record books. His No. 36 jersey will forever adorn the Alex Box Stadium façade along with the program’s other legends.
Furniss finished his decorated career as the SEC’s all-time leader in hits (352), home runs (80), RBI (308), doubles (87) and total bases (689).
Every one of those league records still stand two decades later, but one of them is poised to finally fall in 2019.
“Anytime you talk about Eddy Furniss and one of your players, you’re talking about greatness,” Paul Mainieri says.
Antoine Duplantis surprised some by putting professional baseball on hold for one more year and returning to LSU for his senior season. Along with Zach Hess and Zach Watson, Duplantis is the core of a team that begins 2019 ranked No. 1 or 2 in every major preseason poll.
“I never really felt comfortable leaving after three years,” Duplantis says. “I felt like if the opportunity was something I couldn’t pass up, I’d have to go. But I’m glad I’m back and get to compete for another national championship.”
By coming back Duplantis also has a golden opportunity to chase down Furniss’ all-time hits record. With 268 hits through his first three season, Duplantis begins sits just 84 hits shy of the mark.
Duplantis is a bit too young to have seen Furniss play, and as the black sheep of a pole vaulting family, he was a bit late in life to learning about LSU’s storied history. He admits to not being much of a baseball fan until high school.
Mainieri makes a point of steeping his players in the program’s illustrious history. Duplantis got a more immersive history less than most: he was on the team when LSU retired Furniss’ jersey during the 2016 season.
“That’d be awesome,” Duplantis says of catching Furniss. “I don’t think that was the reason I came back, but that would be a cool little bonus to have for the rest of my life. It’d be real cool to be in the record books.”
Provided he stays healthy, the odds are in favor of Duplantis pulling it off. He’s been a model of consistency to this point in his career, finishing his three collegiate seasons with 89, 90 and 89 hits, respectively.
The daily grind of baseball can be as much of an opponent as the pitcher and defense behind him. In a game of ups and downs, consistency and dependability over the long haul is the key to any coach’s heart.
“I try not to play favorites,” Mainieri says, “but Antoine Duplantis is one of my favorite players I’ve ever coached. In my mind he’s already going down as one of the greatest players we’ve ever had here.”
The plan is for Duplantis to lead off for LSU this season, which comes with the added benefit of maximizing his at-bats — that’s not the main motivation, obviously, but it can’t hurt.
Duplantis is a career .324 hitter who has scored 150 runs in his career to this point and driven in 148, but it is Mainieri’s working theory that the best is still yet to come from his veteran right fielder.
“There’s something about that senior year,” Mainieri says. “You’ve seen it all. You’re confident. There’s nothing you can’t handle. Usually those guys have their best years as seniors. I’m predicting he’s going to have about 110 hits this year, but for him to do that, we’re going to have to go deep in Omaha.”