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.

Southern Company (NYSE:SO), for example, has returned 40% since it was chosen in November 2003, and it's currently rewarding investors with a 4.5% yield. Then there's Health Care REIT (NYSE:HCN), which has returned 66% since its recommendation in September 2003, on top of a current 6% yield. And while both companies 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 high CAPS ratings:

Company

Yield

CAPS Rating (out of 5)

BP (NYSE:BP)

3.3%

*****

Precision Drilling Trust (NYSE:PDS)

9.1%

****

Patterson-UTI Energy (NASDAQ:PTEN)

2.3%

****

Safety Insurance Group (NASDAQ:SAFT)

4.4%

****

Sanofi-Aventis (NYSE:SNY)

2.2%

****

Sources: Capital IQ, Yahoo! Finance, and CAPS as of Nov. 8.

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: Safety Insurance Group.

The painful side of "soft"
When it comes to choosing a pillow to get your beauty rest on, soft can be a beautiful thing. But when it comes to the insurance markets, a soft market is a bad one. A soft market means that there is a lot of underwriting capacity out there putting downward pressure on pricing -- and we are currently in a softening market.

Adding further pessimism to the insurance industry is the fear that insurers -- who typically hold large portfolios of fixed-income securities -- may be sitting on a bunch of deteriorating paper.

Motley Fool Stock Advisor pick Safety Insurance is one of the many insurance companies that have been affected by these fears. Compared to this time last year, Safety's stock has dropped 29% and is trading at just more than six times trailing earnings per share, compared to the low sevens back then.

On CAPS, there are 465 players who think the opportunity in Safety's stock outweighs the risks, versus just 11 who think it will underperform the market. CAPS players seem to be most interested in the low trading multiples for the stock, as well as -- not surprisingly -- the nice 4%-plus dividend.

You can check out who has been bullish on Safety Insurance, 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.

Looking for more great dividend payers? Why not take Motley Fool Income Investor for a spin? You can try out Income Investor free for 30 days. Try getting a BMW dealership to do that!

Precision Drilling is a Motley Fool Global Gains pick. Southern Company and Health Care REIT are both Income Investor recommendations, and Safety Insurance was chosen by Stock Advisor.

Yankees fan and Fool contributor Matt Koppenheffer hopes the Yanks can continue their legendary excellence (maybe next year ...), and has his fingers crossed that the Cowboys will never get back to the top again. He owns shares of BP, but no shares of any of the other companies mentioned. The Fool's disclosure policy is a true investing dynasty.