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When art director Richard Warner was growing up in St. Louis, his neighbor and playmate was Dick Musial, son of Stan the Man. It was natural, therefore, that baseball became one of Warner's favorite pastimes. Football became another of young Rick's preferred sports. "I thought I was going to be a tackle," says the 6-foot Warner, whose father was a baker who frequently brought home samples of his work—bread, cake, etc. "I must have weighed 200 pounds in high school."

However, neither a slugger nor a gridder would he be. As time went by, Warner dropped pounds, added years and discovered the world of art and design. "I guess it can be described as either a blessing or an albatross," he says.

Counting his blessings—or shouldering his albatross—Warner graduated with a fine arts degree from Missouri. He then worked for ad agencies in St. Louis and Dallas and received a master's in fine arts from SMU. In 1977 he joined SPORTS ILLUSTRATED, and two months ago he became only the fourth art director in the magazine's 31-year history.

"The job of the art department is to make the work of a wide variety of talent—writers, photographers, artists—look good," says Warner. He and his department accomplish this by matching the rhythm of a story—its flow, its tone—with artwork. Most often this entails giving the proper photograph just the right setting in a layout. Sometimes, a decision is made to hire an illustrator. "He's got to be able to mold himself to our vision of the story," Warner says. Two such painters whose work has recently appeared in SI are Greg Spalenka and Malcolm T. Liepke. Spalenka created the moody, expressive art that accompanied William Nack's article on the mysterious Bobby Fischer (July 29); Liepke painted last week's cover of Joe Louis. "That was done so poignantly," says Warner. "We were really hoping Louis would speak back to us, and he does."

Warner, 42, lives in Westport, Conn. with his wife, Susan, and his three children, stepson Robert, 21, a premed student at Harvard; Matthew, a 17-year-old high school senior; and Elizabeth, 12. If he's not with the brood, Warner is probably poring over his trove of memorabilia. He has a world-class collection of Hopalong Cassidy junk, and on his desk there are autographs of the 1953 Cardinals. Warner also treasures a 30-year-old photo signed "To Ricky, from Stan Musial." On the wall hangs a curious 1949 photo of Warner at bat. "Hey," he says, "I'm a righty. I have no idea why I'm hitting lefty here." It's a lucky thing for SI's lineup that this switch hitter switched to art.