Saddening and maddening seem apt descriptions that fit the recent Mark McGwire admission of steroid use and the ongoing aftermath.

In the choreographed comeuppance day on Monday, McGwire said in his PR firm prepared statement, “Now that I have become the hitting coach for the St. Louis Cardinals, I have the chance to do something I wish I was able to do five years ago.”

He could have spoken five years ago and didn’t. In March 2005, before a congressional committee, he refused to “speak about the past.”

He said in his statement, “I wish I had never played during the steroid era.”

The era did not make him a user.

He said his injuries lead him to use. “I told myself that steroids could help me recover faster.” And?

Former Cardinal Jack Clark blasted McGwire and other steroid users in a Rick Hummel column at “All those guys [he also named Roger Clemens, Barry Bonds and Sammy Sosa] are cheaters — A-Rod [Alex Rodriguez]. Fake, phony. Rafael Palmeiro. Fake, phony. … All these guys have been liars.”

“It’s a shame that he thinks we’re all stupid, that he only did [steroids] because of injuries,” added Clark. “That’s such a cop-out, such a lie.”

“They go up there and shed a tear,” said Clark, “and they think all is forgotten. Well, it’s not forgotten and it never will be.”

Does McGwire now get a free ride back into the game as a coach? How can that be?

The home runs he hit while on steroids should be discarded from the record books. Would he have hit a lot anyway? Maybe, but the issue of how many need not be dealt with. McGwire’s use created the problem and he must pay the consequences.

Major League Baseball will then have to deal with the record books and the other records held by Bonds and Sosa. So be it.

McGwire should at least be banned from his coaching job for the same number of games he would have been suspended if he were playing.

McGwire’s statement also said, “Baseball is really different now — it’s been cleaned up.”

No it hasn’t.

The minor leagues are rife with performance-enhancing drug issues. The Web site reports that the number of suspensions went from 65 in 2008 to 70 in 2009. There were four MLB suspensions last year, up from two in 2008.

Those minor league suspensions aren’t just about the Dominican and Venezuelan Summer Leagues, points out the article. Sixteen players on North American clubs were suspended in 2008. That number was 43 last year.

Commissioner Bud Selig, after McGwire’s admission, said the steroid era is “a thing of the past.” It is not.

As William Rhoden noted in a New York Times column, “There is no acceptable test in Major League Baseball for human growth hormone, hence no one has any realistic idea of who is using performance-enhancing drugs.”

It’s not just about finding and removing the cheaters’ names and numbers from the books. It’s about those who played and play the game by the rules. They deserve to have both the history of the game and the numbers they established properly recognized.

As Rhoden said in his column, “Until then, Monday’s news media circus will ring as hollow as that home run chase we applauded in 1998.”