Edit: I originally asked this question in 2016. This was before the scandals of the Astros and Red Sox came to light, where the teams allegedly used devices such as cameras, smartwatches, and trash can lids. As well as coordinating efforts with non-players. My question never pertained to such methods of sign-stealing, as I believe it should be obvious why this is wrong.
The question was more about what made it unethical for a player to attempt to manually analyze and decipher an opposing team's signs, using nothing more than his IQ of the game, skill, and experience.
My question pertains mostly to baseball, but I imagine it is just as relevant in other sports as well. Every so often I hear about a disgruntled team, accusing the other team of stealing signs. I don't get it. What actually makes it wrong?
This just seems like any other aspect of the competition that is fair game. For example, if a pitcher inadvertently "tips" his pitches, and the other team is smart enough to pick up on it and use that knowledge to their advantage, then it is generally considered a flaw of the pitcher. It is now his responsibility to correct the problem, and improve his skills by becoming more deceptive and unpredictable. I wouldn't blame the opposing team for cheating; I would say they played smart baseball. I'm having a hard time understanding how "decrypting" signals is any different?
Additionally, the coach who creates the signals does so with the intention to obfuscate them as much as possible. Obviously this is to maximize competitive advantage. So does that not imply competition even within this narrow aspect of the game?
Someone help me out please. What makes stealing signs wrong that teams rightfully take exception and feel cheated?