The New York Yankees of the '50s and the Chicago Bulls and Dallas Cowboys of the '90s, had one crucial element in common: consistently excellent organizations and performance. That's a rare accomplishment, but if you think it could never occur in your portfolio, think again. Carefully chosen dividend-paying stocks could be your key to superstar returns.

Build the next investing dynasty
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 is our Motley Fool Income Investor service's mission.

Snap-on (NYSE:SNA), for example, has returned more than 73% since October 2004, and it currently is rewarding investors with a 2.3% yield. Or consider Natural Fuel Gas (NYSE:NFG), which has returned 75% since August 2005, atop a current 2.6% yield. While these stocks happen to be Income Investor recommendations, you don't need to be a subscriber to get these great gains.

Identify new talent
With the help of Motley Fool CAPS, we'll search for the best dividend-paying stocks around. Here are several dividend picks that have also earned high ratings from the 78,000-plus members of our CAPS community:



Quality Systems (NASDAQ:QSII)


Ship Finance International (NYSE:SFL)


Prospect Capital (NASDAQ:PSEC)


Cherokee (NASDAQ:CHKE)


Applied Industrial Technologies (NYSE:AIT)


Source: Capital IQ, Yahoo! Finance, and CAPS as of Dec. 20.

Stake your claim
Applied Industrial's business -- distributing industrial products -- may not be particularly exciting, but the company has been quite a moneymaker for investors. Over the past five years, Applied Industrial's stock has more than quadrupled, combining moderate revenue growth with increasing margins to consistently boost its bottom line by more than 20% annually.

CAPS player Patrick6k picked Applied Industrial to outperform the market back in October 2006, noting his appreciation for the company's business model, strong cash position, and insider ownership. A year later, the company still sports those same bullish attributes, and it's continuing to build its business. Applied recently announced the acquisition of VYCMEX, a Mexican fluid power distributor. When combined with the company's Applied Mexico subsidiary, the new purchase will make Applied one of that country's largest industrial distribution companies.

See who else has been bullish on Applied Industrial, and chime in with your own thoughts, by heading over to CAPS. While you're there, check out a few of the other top-rated dividend payers above.

Dividend stocks could help you transform your portfolio from the flash-in-the-pan Florida Marlins into the dependable New York Yankees. And if you hate the Yankees, it's probably because they're so darn good, so darn often.

Snap-On and Natural Fuel Gas are both Income Investor recommendations. Looking for more great dividend payers? Try Motley Fool Income Investor free for 30 days.

Fool contributor Matt Koppenheffer hopes his beloved Yanks can continue their legendary excellence. (Maybe next year.) He does not wish the same for the Cowboys. Matt does not own shares of any of the companies mentioned. Quality Systems is a Stock Advisor recommendation. The Fool's disclosure policy is a true investing dynasty.