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? No way! Because that's what carefully chosen dividend-paying stocks can offer.

Build 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.

US Bancorp (NYSE:USB), for example, is up 35% since July 2004, and it is currently rewarding investors with a 4.4% yield. Then there's AllianceBernstein (NYSE:AB), which has returned 189% since September 2004 on top of a current 3.9% yield. And while both stocks happen to be Income Investor recommendations, you don't need to be a subscriber to get these great gains.

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. That means whether you're a Buffett-esque value investor or a chart-watching technical trader, you are welcome to strut your stuff. 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:



Emerson Electric (NYSE:EMR)


Statoil ASA (NYSE:STO)


Barnes Group (NYSE:B)


BioMed Realty Trust (NYSE:BMR)


MC Shipping (AMEX:MCX)


Sources: Capital IQ, Yahoo! Finance, and CAPS as of May 3.

Stake your claim
I encourage you to join CAPS to learn more about why investors are so bullish on these companies, and perhaps to add your own thoughts to the system. I'll get you started with some thoughts about one company here that may be worth checking out: Barnes Group.

In the first paragraph of the first section of Barnes Group's 10-K, it says that the company was founded in 1857, became a corporation in 1925, and "has paid cash dividends to stockholders on a continuous basis since 1934." Now there's a company that's proud of its dividend!

Barnes operates in three business segments: Barnes Distribution, Barnes Industrial (formerly Associated Spring), and Barnes Aerospace. Barnes Distribution, the largest business segment by revenue, is one of the largest distributors of maintenance, repair, operating, and production (MROP) supplies in North America. Barnes Industrial manufactures precision components such as mechanical springs, and Barnes Aerospace makes components and assemblies for OEM manufacturers of turbine engines.

Through a combination of improved operations and a steady diet of acquisitions, Barnes has been looking pretty hot lately. Over the past three years, top-line growth has averaged 12%, but thanks to margin improvements, net income has been growing even faster, at an average of 36% per year. Stock performance has followed the financial performance, and the stock has nearly doubled since mid-2004. It's not every stock that can offer this kind of combination of dividends and capital appreciation.

Though CAPS Top Fool TMFEldrehad admitted that he gave Barnes the thumbs-up only because "B" was the first letter his two-and-a-half-year-old daughter typed on his keyboard, other CAPS members have recognized Barnes for more, let's say, traditional reasons. CAPS All-Star sleepyseth offers:

[Barnes] has managed to pull off the diversified industrial profile very well, a strategy that did not work for many companies and resulted in many spin-offs elsewhere. ... It has been very successful at growing steadily over the last few years, usually with all three divisions contributing to growth in some way. Although the industries that it operates in may seem dull and boring (except maybe aerospace), this company has become anything but. It has been growing revenues and earnings at an increasing rate, and the company seems to have integrated its recent acquisition of Kent Division spectacularly, as shown by its recent quarter, which was one of their best in years.

You can check out more of what others have to say about Barnes Group, 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 looping back around to conclude my (very) 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.

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