Cincinnati jumped out to an early 3-1 lead and held on to win a home against Chicago at the Avenue Grounds in Cincinnati, 5-3.
There were just six teams in the National League in 1878: Chicago, Cincinnati, Boston, Milwaukee, Indianapolis, and Providence, and both Chicago and Cincinnati were close to being mathematically eliminated. Chicago captain, shortstop Bob Ferguson, sent out his usual lineup with Terry Larkin as his pitcher. Cincinnati, captained by third baseman Cal McVey, started his usual pitcher Will White.
The Chicago Tribune account of the day sounds like it was written by a man who either didn't want to be at the game in Cincinnati or was very frustrated by the uneven play of Chicago. Chicago entered the game at 28-20 and Cincinnati was 27-22.
Chicago second baseman Bill McClellan was singled out for the most vitriol. McClellan was described as "he couldn't stop a barrel." Also, "To illustrate: if [Joe] Gerhardt had been playing second for Chicago and McClellan for Cincinnati, the former would have won easily."
Overall, McClellan was charged with three errors in the game. Chicago made 10 errors overall. The defense was further hurt when catcher Bill Harbridge hurt his hand and had to move to the outfield and switched places with Cap Anson. Anson caught 105 games in his career, including 11 in 1897, when he was 45 years old. 1878 was Anson's eight in pro ball if you count his five in the National Association (which I do.) He would play in 26 seasons.
There isn't much detail about the game in the paper as the last sentence of the story indicates, "An analysis of the play is not interesting, and there was nothing much of merit in it."
I can tell you that McVey hit a home run, one of two he hit on the season, and only one of five Cincinnati hit all year. Left fielder Charley Jones hit the other three. Cincinnati also had rookie outfielder King Kelly playing in right field. Gerhardt hit a triple for Cincinnati. Cincinnati also played an outfielder named Buttercup Dickerson. I don't know why he had that nickname. I don't want to know.
The Tribune correspondent asked that McClellan be benched and 18-year old Bill Traffley start at second instead. Traffley would get into two games in 1878 and go 1 for 9. He didn't play in the majors again until 1883 with the American Association Cincinnati team. He batted .175 in his career.
As for the maligned McClellan, he batted .224 in the 1878 season, but his OBP was .232 and he slugged .263! He committed 35 errors in 42 games. Charlie Sweasy of Providence made 59 errors in 55 games at second base. Joe Quest of Indianapolis made 60 errors in 62 games, so McClellan wasn't all that bad in the field. McClellan would not return to Chicago in 1879, but would come back with Providence in 1881, where he hit .166. He spent another year around the minors and came back with Philadelphia in 1883 and batted .230. And the Phillies asked him back in 1884 and he batted .258. His best season at bat came in 1887 with Brooklyn of the AA when he batted .263. He played one more season in 1888 for Brooklyn and then Cleveland. McClellan passed away on July 3, 1929 at the age of 73.
Chicago finished the season at 30-30 in fourth place. Cincinnati was 37-23 and four games in back of first place Boston.
Sources: Retrosheet, Baseball-reference.com, Chicago Tribune