The New York Yankees of the 1950s and the Chicago Bulls and Dallas Cowboys of the 1990s had two crucial elements in common: consistently excellent organizations and performance. That's rare, but if you think it could never occur in your portfolio, think again. Carefully chosen dividend-paying stocks can 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.

California Water Services (NYSE: CWT), for example, has returned more than 52% since September 2003, and it currently is rewarding investors with a 3.1% yield. Or consider TOTAL SA  (NYSE: TOT), which has returned 99% since December 2003 atop a current 2.7% 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 80,000-plus members of our CAPS community:

Company

Yield

CAPS Rating (5 max)

Coca-Cola (NYSE: KO)

2.1%

****

Altria (NYSE: MO)

3.8%

*****

Merck (NYSE: MRK)

2.5%

****

Wyeth (NYSE: WYE)

2.4%

****

FirstEnergy (NYSE: FE)

2.9%

*****

Source: Capital IQ (a division of Standard & Poor's), Yahoo! Finance, and CAPS as of Jan. 10.

Stake your claim
Health care was one of the few sectors that has been buoyant over the past year, and thus far avoided the fate of the financial and consumer discretionary sectors. With a lot of uncertainty still in the mix for the coming year, large caps in this sector, including Wyeth and Merck, could be good cushions as the rest of the market bounces around.

CAPS player xthecritic pointed out exactly that when he gave Wyeth a thumbs-up in October:

This is a sector play. Drug manufacturers have been and will continue to outperform the market in the next 12-18 months as we deal with economic weakness. I like the sector overall after several years of pressure from products coming off patent and with positive overall demographic trends.

Current economic trends aren't the only reason to consider Wyeth. RugbyViking13 noted last September that the company is behind big, ubiquitous brand names like Advil and Robitussin, not to mention the fact that it "is growing like a wild fire, has $12B in cash, and has a profit margin of 20%."

The company sees a lot of promise for its recently approved drug Torisel, a treatment for the most common type of kidney cancer. Bubbling up through the pipeline are treatments for mental disorders and osteoporosis, as well as a new depression drug, Pristiq.

You can see who has been bullish on Wyeth, as well as chime in with your own thoughts by heading over to CAPS. You may also want to read more about 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:

California Water Services and TOTAL SA are Motley Fool Income Investor recommendations. Coca-Cola is an Inside Value pick.

Yankees fan and Fool contributor Matt Koppenheffer hopes the Yanks can resume their legendary excellence (maybe this year), and he has his fingers crossed that the Cowboys never will reach the top again. He owns shares of Altria but of no other company mentioned. The Fool's disclosure policy is a true investing dynasty.