Who won the NL Central in 2001?

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The Cardinals and the Astros, then both in the NL Central, shared identical 93-69 records in 2001. Due to the Astros winning more head-to-head matchups that season, they were given the higher playoff seed and faced Atlanta in the NLDS while the Cardinals had to go on the road as the wild card team and face the eventual World Series champion Diamondbacks.

Based on the seeding, most people would probably say that the Astros were the true NL Central champs that year, at least assuming they had anything approaching an opinion about it. But today Jorge de Jesus Ortiz, writing about the once hot Houston-St. Louis rivalry, reminds us that the Cardinals took a different view of things:

If you think Houston fans are upset about Chris Correa’s hacking, you should have heard even the most mild-mannered Astros players after their first visit to Busch Stadium II in 2002 . . . The Astros were livid when they walked out for batting practice and saw a pennant declaring the Cardinals NL Central champions. Young Astros slugger Lance Berkman, who would eventually help the Cardinals win a World Series at the end of his career, called me in the press box to make sure I saw the banner.

I vaguely remember that as a controversy and thought it was rather meaningless even then. I can’t for the life of me remember if that banner is still up. I figure it is (the pic at the top of the page is old but shows that it was still there four years later). For whatever it’s worth, it’s still a running issue on Wikipedia, as this rather amusing discussion on the Wikipedia Talk page for the National League Central makes clear.

As controversies go this is about as pressing as the one in which, between them, Alabama and Ohio State football claim about 75 national championships that they and only they believe they won at one time or another. I choose to treat this Cardinals-Astros thing the same way I treat that whole deal when I talk to my fellow Ohio State alums: “That’s nice for you. If it makes you happy, that’s all that matters.”