Legend Joe"Punchy" Behl, 1939-42, was quarterback, basketball player and an all-conference baseball player for the Lobos. He died May 27, 2007, at the age of 88.
Behl grew up in Pennsylvania, though he considered himself a local. He arrived in Albuquerque in 1939 by train after UNM offered him an athletic scholarship. He packed his curveball when he made the move to UNM from Pennsylvania.
He was the first UNM pitcher ever to beat Arizona. It was 1941. Wildcats Athletic Director John McKale asked Behl what kind of deal he had with the Lobos. "I told him, and he said, `Come to Tucson and I'll double it,'" Behl told J.D. Kailer in an interview for the Albuquerque Journal. Behl had come to UNM because they offered him room, board, books, tuition and $25 a month. They raised the ante when the Cleveland Indians offered him a $25,000 bonus, but the draft forced him to trade the playing field for the battlefield.
As a naval reservist, he received officer and flight training and then went to San Diego for his assignment in the Pacific as a torpedo pilot. He piloted a carrier based Avenger on 23 combat missions and stacked up a commendable battle record. For his bravery, Behl was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross and an Air Medal with 5 clusters. His proudest award came when he earned the nation's second highest military honor - the Navy Cross - for disabling a Japanese aircraft carrier while a pilot off the USS Hornet. He later flew as a commercial pilot.
Behl signed with the Dukes in 1946 for $325 a month and three dollars per day meal money, he said. He also earned an additional $125 for driving the team bus. He pitched for the Dukes from 1946-48 and later served as a coach for a number of managers, including his friend, Duke Snider. Behl suggested he served with less distinction as an Albuquerque Duke in the late 1940s than he has the rest of his 87-plus years. The Isotopes honored Behl, and other former Dukes, during a game in 2005.
When Behl played for the Dukes from 1946-48, one of his proudest distinctions is that he never allowed a home run to Joe Bauman, the slugger of lore who hit 72 homers for the Class D Roswell Rockets in 1954. "He said he could never hit one off me because I never threw hard enough," Behl said in another Journal interview.
Back in the day when the Dukes played at old Tingley Field by the zoo, the peacocks would squawk, but the players could earn "screen" or "home run" money from fans who jammed dollar bills in the backstop.
Sports wasn't just a game for Behl, it was business. He ran a sporting goods store and the Red Lion restaurant, a popular hangout of Lobo fans.