The New York Yankees of the '50s and the Chicago Bulls and Dallas Cowboys of the '90s had one crucial element in common: consistent excellence in their 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.

Health Care REIT (NYSE:HCN), for example, has beaten the S&P 500 by 70% since September 2003, and it's currently rewarding investors with a 6.4% yield. Or consider Diageo (NYSE:DEO), which has topped the S&P by 34% since April 2004, atop a current 4.7% 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 115,000-plus members of our CAPS community:

Company

Yield

CAPS Rating (max 5)

Merck (NYSE:MRK)

5.4%

****

Nokia (NYSE:NOK)

5.1%

****

PetroChina (NYSE:PTR)

6.9%

****

Raytheon (NYSE:RTN)

2.5%

****

Titanium Metals (NYSE:TIE)

3.8%

*****

Source: Capital IQ, a division of Standard & Poor's; Yahoo! Finance; and CAPS as of Oct. 24.

Any one of these quality companies would add some dividend excellence to your portfolio. Let's see why CAPS members think Raytheon is worth a particularly hard look.

TheCreek weighs in
As I gape at the red in my portfolio and ponder the potential for a big-time recession headed our way, I can't help wondering whether any companies can possibly do well in this environment. I doubt I'm the only one thinking about it.

So what will work? Low-priced, everyday goods, the last things consumers cut from their budget, would probably make the list. It's also going to be tough for customers to cut out the use of certain health-are services and prescription drugs. We'll also very likely see the government continue to spend on military technology. And one of the chief beneficiaries of spending in this latter category will be Raytheon, a favorite of CAPS member TheCreek:

I love defense companies but I really love Raytheon. They produce the top 3 (known to the public) missles used by the Army, Navy and Airforce: Patriot, Sidewinder, and Tomahawk.... focus their efforts on missile defense, precision engagement, intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance and homeland security.

...With the war ongoing, our need to replace tons of munitions and our upgrade to more precise weapons and UAV's, Raytheon will find its way to the big table at DoD and grab some of our tax money.

Of course, this bullish commentary arrived in summer 2007, so we might wonder whether the time for bullishness has past. If the company's most recent earnings report is any indicator, I'd fire back a resounding "no."

Sales for the quarter were up 12% from the prior year, and earnings per share jumped 17%. Though bookings fell from the prior year, total bookings for the first nine months of the year are still outpacing 2007, and total backlog is up slightly. During the quarter, the company was financially secure enough to spend $340 million buying back shares, while simultaneously getting its debt rating upgraded by Standard & Poor's and Fitch.

Management expects good things going forward, too. The company bumped up its projections for full-year revenue and earnings, and it introduced 2009 guidance that shows earnings per share growing 14%.

Even if the stock continues to trade at low multiples for a while, you'll get to collect a nice little dividend while you wait for Mr. Market to come back to his senses.

Get into the action
See who else has been bullish on these stocks, and 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.

Dividend stocks could help you transform your portfolio from the flash-in-the-pan Florida Marlins to the dependable New York Yankees. Finding the best dividend payers is our Motley Fool Income Investor service's mission. And if you hate the Yankees, it's probably because they're so darn good, so darn often.

More CAPS Foolishness:

Health Care REIT and Diageo are Motley Fool Income Investor selections. Nokia is an Inside Value pick. Titanium Metals is a Stock Advisor recommendation. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days.

Yankees fan and Fool contributor Matt Koppenheffer does not want to talk about the Yankees ... at all. He does not own shares of any of the companies mentioned. The Fool's disclosure policy is a true investing dynasty.