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.

Diageo (NYSE: DEO), for example, has returned more than 68% since April 2004 and is rewarding investors now with a 3.1% yield. Or consider AGL Resources (NYSE: ATG), which has returned 42% since March 2004 atop a current 4.4% 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 79,000-plus members of our CAPS community:

Company

Yield

CAPS Rating

Caterpillar (NYSE: CAT)

2.1%

****

3M (NYSE: MMM)

2.3%

*****

MVC Capital (NYSE: MVC)

3.1%

****

Chemical & Mining Co. of Chile (NYSE: SQM)

1.6%

*****

Danaos (NYSE: DAC)

7.2%

****

Source: Capital IQ, Yahoo! Finance, and CAPS as of Jan. 4.

Stake your claim
In all of the excitement over global growth, it can be easy to overlook some stocks we already know and love. Inside Value recommendation 3M is a prime example -- although the company is based in St. Paul, Minn., less than half of its sales came from the U.S. in 2006. A quarter of its sales came from Europe, the Middle East, and Africa, while slightly more than a quarter came from Asia.

As my Foolish colleague Ryan Fuhrmann recently pointed out, investors can capitalize on global growth even if growth in the U.S. isn't all that spectacular. I agree with Ryan that a doomsday scenario is not in store for the U.S. economy, but no matter what happens domestically, there's good reason to take part in the strong growth overseas.

Now I know that Chinese stocks such as China Finance Online and JA Solar Holdings may seem like the hottest thing since Joni and Chachi got together. However, they are both stocks in hot industries in the white-hot Chinese market. Stocks like these might be good to spice up your portfolio, but they aren't the bedrock material that 3M is -- and neither provides the steady dividend income stream that you can expect from 3M.

SewellMarbury, a top player on CAPS, calls 3M a "dark horse of the Dow" and recommends that investors "buy and hold forever." Meanwhile, marc64 also likes the international aspect of the company and notes, "The dollar is going to continue its slide through at least 2009. That slide makes 3M's products price-competitive abroad, and its profits worth more in USA dollars."

You can see who else has been bullish on 3M, as well as chime in with your own thoughts by heading over to CAPS. You may also want to check a few of the other top-rated dividend payers above while you're there.

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.

More CAPS Foolishness:

Invesco and Enterprise Products Partners are Income Investor recommendations. MVC Capital is a pick from the Hidden Gems service, and 3M is an Inside Value pick.

Yankees fan and Fool contributor Matt Koppenheffer hopes the Yanks can resume their legendary excellence (maybe next year ...), and 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 a true investing dynasty.