Quiz time, sports fans: What did the New York Yankees of the '50s and the Chicago Bulls and Dallas Cowboys of the '90s have in common? And exactly how can this help you with your portfolio?

It wasn't just that they had some of the best individual players of the time -- Yogi Berra, Michael Jordan, and Emmitt Smith respectively -- although that certainly helped. And it wasn't just that they were able to bring home world championship trophies on a regular basis. It was simply that their organizations and performances were consistently excellent.

Consistent excellence is rare anywhere, but imagine seeing it in your portfolio. Impossible? Heck, no! Because that's what carefully chosen dividend-paying stocks can offer.

Be the next investing dynasty
Finding these long-haul outperformers can help you build your fortune, as studies from investing gurus such as Jeremy Siegel have shown time and time again. Finding them for you is precisely what we do at our Motley Fool Income Investor service.

Newell Rubbermaid (NYSE:NWL), for example, is up nearly 37% since February 2005 and currently pays shareholders a 2.8% yield. Then there's RPM International (NYSE:RPM), which has returned more than 34% since January 2005 and pays off a 3.1% yield. And while both stocks happen to be Income Investor recommendations, you don't have to be a subscriber to find other dividend ideas.

Identify new talent
With that last thought in mind, I'd like to introduce you to our new community-intelligence database, Motley Fool CAPS. There, savvy investors help one another identify stocks that can create consistent and substantial growth for any type of investor. In fact, thousands of strategies, plays, and hunches are allowed to vie for supremacy. And just as in professional sports, the cream inevitably rises to -- and stays at -- the top.

So what are the best dividend-paying stocks around, according to CAPS? Here are a few dividend picks with five-star ratings:



Chemical and Mining Company of Chile (NYSE:SQM)


Regency Centers (NYSE:REG)


Atlas Pipeline Partners (NYSE:APL)


Ventas (NYSE:VTR)


Eaton (NYSE:ETN)


Source: Capital IQ and CAPS as of Feb 2.

Stake your claim
I encourage you to join CAPS to learn more about why investors are so bullish on these companies; perhaps you'll want to add your own thoughts to the system. Either way, I'll get you started with some thoughts about one company here that may be worth checking out. Ventas is a Louisville, Ky.-based health-care REIT that operates 200 skilled-nursing facilities, 41 hospitals, and 147 senior-housing and other health care-related facilities. In short, Ventas is a great way to invest in the coming baby boomer boom and collect a nice dividend booster on top of it all.

It's been a bit of a turnaround for Ventas, which was facing dire straits eight years ago, when its current CEO, Debra Cafaro, took over. After getting Ventas' fiscal house in order, Cafaro went about putting the company back on a growth trajectory, and the stock has responded in kind. Over the past three years, Ventas stock has gained more than 100%. The company is still stoking growth, and the first nine months of the year showed a 31% increase in its top line. The bottom line grew at a much slower 9%, though, as even faster growth in depreciation and the loans that the company shouldered for acquisitions took their toll.

You can check out what other investors have to say about Ventas, as well as chime in with your own thoughts, by heading over to CAPS. You may also want to check out a few of the other top-rated dividend payers above while you're there.

And to conclude my extended sports metaphor, allow me to suggest that dividend stocks will help you turn your portfolio into the dependable New York Yankees, rather than the flash-in-the-pan Florida Marlins. And if you hate the Yankees, it's probably because they're so darn good, so darn often.

More interesting income Foolishness:

Yankees fan and Fool contributor Matt Koppenheffer hopes the Yanks can continue (regain?) their legendary excellence, and he has his fingers crossed that the Cowboys never will get back to the top again. He does not own shares of any of the companies mentioned. The Fool's disclosure policy is always on the winning team.