In the midst of an otherwise unrevelatory piece on the possibility of Roger Clemens escaping the going-nowhere Astros this summer, the Daily News’ Anthony McCarron coaxed this gem out of Houston owner Drayton McLane (above).

Clemens, 42, said he would retire after the 2003 season, but decided to sign with his hometown Astros after Andy Pettitte did. Clemens won his seventh Cy Young award last season, then hedged last winter before deciding to return. He signed a one-year deal for $18 million.

In ’04, he made $6.8 million, and the Astros enjoyed a bump in attendance from 2.45 million to 3.09 million.

Clemens has a special arrangement with the Astros that allows him to follow his own schedule. If he is not pitching during a road series, he has the option of staying in Houston. The pitcher enjoyed being able to watch his four sons play sports last season. “Roger helped revitalize baseball in Houston,” McLane said. “He is a vital part of our franchise.”

I hope you’re all paying attention. The 42 year old Clemens, making $18 million this season, is “a vital part” of the Astros, despite his tenure in a Houston uniform lasting all of a season and 6 weeks. Carlos Beltran, widely credited with getting the Astros to the brink of the World Series last season, was considered a poor investment compared to Clemens’ pact, or the contract extension given to OF Lance Berkman (who showed his commitment to the team by tearing up his knee playing flag football over the winter).

A neighbor of mine attended opening weekend at Minute Maid Park and brought back one of the Astros’ giveaway calendars. The smiling mugs of Clemens, Berkman, Biggio, Bagwell and Pettitte adorn the front cover.

The Houston Chronicle claims that Hispanics are nearly 40% of Houston’s population. I’m not suggesting that any portion of that population is more likely to attend Astros games merely because the club makes an effort to retain Hispanic players, any more than trading the halfway capable Richard Hidalgo for the downright diabolical David Weathers was racially motivated. I figure Hispanic baseball fans are like any other group of fans — they’d prefer to see a team that doesn’t suck. Tom House got his ass kicked for paying A-Rod $25 million a year, a figure that supposedly made it impossible to field a competitive team. McLane’s deal with Clemens seems to escape such scrutiny (and at least A-Rod played every day, as did Beltran).

In today’s Chronicle, former Astros manager Larry Dierker mounts a spirited defense of McLane, but I wouldn’t mind reading ex-GM Gerry Hunsicker’s take on the whole thing.